Federal Animal Disease Lab Awash in Deficiencies
Independent Accreditation Urged to Ensure Integrity of Research Results
Washington, DC — The nation’s premier wildlife disease laboratory suffers from a number of serious deficiencies and deviations from accepted scientific standards which raise questions about the validity of its research, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The facility studies both animal diseases, such as White Nose Syndrome in bats and Chronic Wasting Disease in deer, elk, and moose, as well as diseases transmitted to humans, such as Avian Influenza and West Nile Virus.
The complaint concerns the National Wildlife Health Center, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Because it is operated by a federal agency, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), it is not subject to independent oversight of animal research. But documents obtained by PEER through a lawsuit brought under the federal Freedom of Information Act indicate that the facility suffers from what are labeled “significant programmatic and facility deficiencies” causing one consultant to describe the program as “on the edge of possible failure.” Problems detailed in the records include:
- Multiple and ongoing animal deaths for which there were no follow-up necropsies to determine the causes nor was there a budget for any diagnostics;
- In January 2015, one significant deficiency serious enough to warrant removing all animals and temporarily closing the facility down. The facility also has no formal program for monitoring and assessing the well-being of its animals; and
- A number of quality assurance violations, such as poor medical record keeping, and related staffing deficiencies.
The PEER complaint to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell outlines a “loss of scientific integrity” contrary to agency policy. It urges that the USGS, Interior’s principal science arm, subject this lab and its other research centers to independent accreditation for animal care and use, as many other federal agencies – ranging from EPA to CDC to NASA – have voluntarily done.
“We filed this complaint because the record indicated that USGS isn’t doing enough to correct years of reported deficiencies,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Laura Dumais, who also prosecuted the lawsuit which produced the documents. “The fact that we had to sue USGS to force release of the lab’s inspection reports indicates an institutional mindset inclined to ignore rather than address problems.”
In addition, the USGS still lacks any written quality assurance guidance for its animal research centers. Instead, the USGS relies on internal reviews, which have been demonstrably ineffective.
“External accreditation would be a strong incentive to bring USGS animal research programs up to accepted standards and promote public confidence in research results,” Dumais added. “We are asking Secretary Jewel to take action now and not leave this overdue housekeeping to the next administration.”