University of Memphis pays USDA fine for alleged animal welfare issues

The University of Memphis has entered into a settlement agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture regarding allegations that it violated the Animal Welfare Act. Under the settlement, the institution has paid a civil penalty of $15,100.

The complaint against U of M was filed by the Ohio-based nonprofit SAEN (Stop Animal Exploitation Now), which monitors American organizations, such as universities, that use animals for research. According to a USDA document, U of M allegedly violated the Animal Welfare Act multiple times between 2022 and 2024, resulting in the deaths of 12 voles, 15 mole rats, two hamsters and a house finch.

A spokesperson for AU of M provided the following statement: “The University of Memphis takes its research responsibilities seriously and the University of Memphis Animal Care and Use Program strives to ensure the humane and ethical use of animals in research, in accordance with all applicable regulations, laws, and university policy.”

The university said more information may be available available on its website.

The first alleged violation occurred around April 1, 2022, with “an overnight failure of the life science building HVAC unit” causing reduced ventilation and increased temperatures that led to the death of 12 voles.

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According to the USDA document, U of M did not ensure that its facilities had proper ventilation that would prevent animal discomfort. The university also allegedly fails to provide fresh air through windows, doors, vents, fans or air conditioning.

The second alleged violation took place in the summer of 2022. Between July 19 and August 22 of that year, 15 naked mole rats were either euthanized by the U of M for medical reasons or found dead. An animal care technician said the mole rats had recently engaged in a fight and appeared agitated. U of M attributed the struggles and deaths to an environmental stressor – with potential causes including the soft hum of a dehumidifier in the room and a lighting fault that left the mole rats with 24 hours of continuous light.

According to the document, U of M allegedly failed to handle the animals as carefully as possible, in a manner that did not cause trauma, overheating, excessive cooling, behavioral stress, physical harm or unnecessary discomfort.

Another violation took place in September 2023. U of M found a dwarf hamster with its front foot stuck in the grate of its enclosure. Although the hamster received treatment, the foot appeared to have permanent damage, and it was humanely euthanized by a veterinarian.

According to the document, U of M allegedly failed to ensure that its hamster enclosures were structurally sound and well maintained.

A second hamster was found with its foot stuck in the grate of its enclosure in January 2024. This hamster also had an injury that caused it to be euthanized, and the incident led to another alleged violation.

This was followed by an incident in March 2024 that led to another alleged breach. U of M found a house finch dead, with one of its toes stuck in the gap between the side and back panels of the cage. According to the USDA, the university failed to construct and maintain enclosures that would protect birds from harm.

John Klyce covers education and children’s issues for The Commercial Appeal. You can reach him at [email protected].

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