USDA Report Misses the MARC

By on March 9, 2015 with 13 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a disappointing report today about the federally-funded, Nebraska-based U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC), which was the focus of a searing and infuriating New York Times investigative piece by Michael Moss published just over a month ago. The Times report documented scientists at the Center doing a variety of gruesome experiments, including locking pigs in steam chambers until they died, breeding calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs, and leaving newborn lambs to starve, freeze, or, get battered to death by hail. The Times got wind of these abusive experiments from a brave whistleblowing veterinarian at the Center, Dr. Jim Keen. I met with Dr. Keen in Nebraska a few weeks ago, and he told me that even though The Times’ report was highly detailed and shocking, there were additional abuses that didn’t even make it into the article. The information that Dr. Keen provided to The Times was corroborated by many others who have worked at the Center.

The USDA report released today – which was anything but exhaustive – acknowledges a few of those failings. The report finds that the Center had a woefully inadequate Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; lacked a formal training process, including a whistleblower policy; and the extensive cooperation agreement between the Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln lacks clarity with regards to authority and responsibility for animal care. It also rightly recommends that the Center’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee should review the use of all vertebrate animals at the facility. We agree with these recommendations, and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has ordered immediate implementation of them.

But for the most part, today’s report sidesteps a serious look at past abuses at the Center – neither affirming nor denying them. The report’s authors based many of their observations off a pre-announced three-day tour of the Center, over a month after The New York Times story broke, in which they found no ongoing animal abuse. That the Center’s staff didn’t abuse animals for a three-day period, during which they knew they were under intense observation, tells us nothing about their commitment to animal welfare.

What was needed was not a white-glove tour, but a forensic look into how appalling abuses were allowed to occur at the Center and others like it, and whether the leadership and the researchers who abused animals there should be retained. The USDA has promised there will be a phase two examination of all farm animal research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service, based on visits to three to five other federally-funded facilities. We hope that during those visits the USDA will conduct more rigorous unannounced inspections, and take a serious look at the value and animal care at every one of the estimated 40 ARS facilities conducting experiments on farm animals.

And while we’re glad that the USDA is following up on The Times investigation, today’s report misses a larger point. Why is our government using taxpayer money to fund productivity experiments for the factory farming industry? Essentially every other industry has to do its own research and development, but for agribusiness the USDA runs a network of centers focused not on improving animal welfare or aiding the environment, but simply on boosting agribusiness profits. The industry is fully capable of funding its own research. And neither the government nor private industry should be funding any research that is wasteful of animal life, or causes animals needless torment.

While the report calls for more rigorous oversight, it stops short of recommending USDA oversight under the Animal Welfare Act. This reflects a gaping hole in the Act, which excludes farm animals used for agricultural research. Right now, a private or university laboratory scientist researching how to cure cancer has to comply with at least the minimal standards of the Animal Welfare Act, but a federal government scientist researching how to breed a more profitable pig doesn’t have to comply with any animal welfare standards at all. That’s indefensible, inconsistent, and wrong-headed.  The federal government should adhere to rules that it imposes on other actors within the realm of laboratory experiments on animals.

The Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY)and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and  Richard Blumenthal (D-CT),  would close the loophole that exempts this kind of research from any animal welfare oversight. Congress should pass this legislation. And if Congress fails to act, the USDA should extend AWA protections to animals used in these forms of research. Only that action – and not another whitewash report – will prevent future abuses at facilities like the USMARC.

Animal Research and Testing, Farm Animals, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Bob Stevenson says:

    Doris, I agree 100%. The USDA, like other government departments, have sold out the American people, that such organizations are supposed to represent. Like the forest service, they have caved in to big money special interest like Big Ag.

  2. Cheryl Sadowski says:

    What can we do now, as caring citizens, to share our deep disappointment in the skirting of the issues and to call for change? I am planning on a personal letter directly to Vilsack and to my own state representatives and senators, but if there is another route the HSUS suggests, would love to know. This matter sickens me to the core.

  3. Barbara G. says:

    All of these operations need to be shut down but it would take a fight to the death to accomplish it. There is plenty of other uses that the taxpayer dollars that is paying for this mess could be used for. But steaming live pigs to death is over the top. Shut it down.

  4. Kate says:

    This place isn’t “research” is a taxpayer funded lab for nothing but a sadistic group of Dr. Mengeles. Period.

    Tom Vilsack has made a mockery of the USDA, and the USDA has become nothing but the largest lobbying arm of big ag for big ag. As Obama is Vilsack’s boss, he is every bit as responsible for the horrid animal abuse, and shows us once again, Obama has turned his back on the “little guy” who are paying for these monsters at these labs.

    • Donna Rudins says:

      This place is not even a lab, it looks like a processing/(Joseph Mengele murder camp) plant. BIG AG MUST GO, MFA, please make a list of companies,
      restaurants, businesses and associates, that condone or contribute towards the tortured/inhumane practices for their food chains/products, so that we concerned humane “little guys” can pass it around facebook, twitter, and e-mail to our families, friends, etc.. THE ONLY WAY TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IS TO STOP SPENDING OUR MONEY AT THESE MURDERER/TORTURE/ABUSE BUSINESSES!

  5. Kimberly says:

    It’s a shame the way people use animals.. Someone should do the same thng to the people at the treatment centers tht thy r doing to those animals.. It sickens me to knw tht ths is going on

  6. Paula says:

    Yes I agree ,the world has a Evil wind caused by this corruption ,the “legal ” is “evil.i would like to put in a word for Sam Simon whom passed away and rescued so many suffering animals. I hand out vegan magazines every day and care for wildlife .i thought the book “noetics of nature ” environmental philosophy of holy beauty in the visible and the invisible by Bruce Foltz is a kind of soul nurturing book.

  7. Erin C. Kennedy says:

    Big Age is running the USDA! How else could these atrocities to animals occur? This taxpayer holocaust is horrifying! Get rid of the political hacks in the USDA! All the abuses to factory farm animals is Completely Unacceptable and Must Be Answered!!!

  8. G. Wayne Hild says:

    The USDA also made it easy for the untested with long term studies GMO’s to be cultivated so quickly, but heck they were only toeing the pro-gmo line and in lock step with many of the past White house administrations.It was only politics that made us guinea pigs and consumer test subjects that will end up bankrupting the health and medical systems. Anyone stating that GMO’s healthy okay for any man or animal to consume is either stupid or ignorant or both as it is easier to explain.

  9. Sally Elms (Texas) says:

    Thank God that Mr. Wayne Pacelle of HSUS is the leading defender of animal rights!

    No matter how many obstacles we who truly care about the welfare of all animals everywhere encounter, Mr. Pacelle just never, ever gives up!

    Therefore, if he can always keep on moving toward achieving better care for animals everywhere, then so can we !

    I believe that if we just keep on doing whatever we can to help animals, hopefully by starting with a donation if we are able to, …to working to halt the actions of the USMARC, or making the effort to re-locate an animal family of some kind instead of simply destroying their home, or making sure that wild horses aren’t being captured for slaughter, or just making sure that we’re giving the best care that we can to our own pet children, then we will be doing the very best we can and in turn, helping Mr. Pacelle move farther along in his quest to make a “better way” for every animal in every environment!

    In addition, I totally agree with Donna Rudins and with Kimberly too…that kind of treatment to animals is an atrocity and “yes”, if those people were treated in the same manner as they have treated animals, they would all be singing a much different song!

  10. Greg says:

    the American People, has to under stand,that our Government,is one Big Pimp,and all its organizations,are there whores,and Big business pays them.

  11. Susan McCarthy says:

    I am so ashamed that my tax dollars are being used in such a despicable manner. Is there nothing we the people can do to thwart big business and big money?

  12. Harry Steiner says:

    Is there a recent update on the bill and have the gruesome practices stopped at those facilities?
    Dr. Keen has a fundraiser going for fight against the “kitty slaughterhouse”, which seems to be another US Government facility but the article wasn’t clear which and what?

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