CSU’s animal research receives critical fine from USDA


Collegian | Falyn Sebastian

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Piper Russell and Allie Seibel

Colorado State University was found to be in violation of regulatory guidance in the negligent treatment of animals in its research program by the United States Department of Agriculture. According to the university, the citations are both associated with a study evaluating a vaccine to prevent hemorrhagic diseases in rabbits. This disease cannot be contracted by humans, but it can by animals found in Colorado.

According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, this disease is extremely contagious and fatal, oftentimes without visible symptoms in rabbits. According to the USDA, a rabbit hemorrhagic disease virus serotype 2 vaccine is currently not licensed in the United States. The State of Colorado’s Veterinary Office has approved licensed veterinarians to administer the RHDV2 vaccine produced by Medgene Labs for use in an emergency.


Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, a national research watchdog, filed an official complaint against CSU April 25 for violations against the Animal Welfare Act. The USDA cited CSU with two violations, one of which was a rare critical violation, in their inspection report Feb. 7.

CSU was cited for violating Section 2.31 Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. The report from the USDA states that 12 rabbits reached temperatures over the humane endpoint of 41 degrees Celsius, the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee-approved protocol for rabbits. Six of the rabbits were found dead, and the others were euthanized. 

“Failure of the research personnel to adhere to the humane endpoints in the IACUC-approved protocol resulted in these animals experiencing unnecessary unrelieved pain and distress and constitutes a significant change that was not reviewed or approved by the committee,” the report reads.

The report explains CSU also violated Section 2.36 Annual Report for not reporting 26 animals “used in research involving accompanying pain or distress to the animals for which the use of appropriate anesthetics and analgesics were withheld.”

“They didn’t report what they were supposed to report because they withheld adequate pain relief and things for a study that involved at least 26 rabbits, and they reported that zero animals underwent unnecessary pain and distress,” said Stacey Ellison, a research analyst for SAEN. 

After learning of violations, the USDA will conduct an investigation and either give CSU an official warning or fine the university, Ellison said. The maximum penalty can be a fine of $12,722 per animal.

“Now Colorado State has two (critical violations), which (are) killing animals and leaving six rabbits to die and then the other six animals that had to be killed,” Ellison said. “The severity of it is pretty severe; action (will have to be taken) on these because they were labeled as critical.”

SAEN monitors animal laboratories for animal abuse violations and cites individual laboratories for their wrongdoings. 

Measuring temperature in rabbits can be difficult as handling them can create stress, which can lead to a temporary increase in temperature,” said Nik Olsen, CSU director for integrative communications, in an email. “Knowing this, research staff used their best judgment to try to avoid false positives and unnecessary euthanasias. Unfortunately, this did lead to some rabbits over the course of the study dying from the virus versus being euthanized.”


Olsen said CSU must file the second citation related to the animal census report with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. He said the study did not properly reflect the numbers reported, and CSU rectified the error.

“Colorado State University takes seriously its commitment (to) care for all animals under its care and to ensure adherence to approved research protocol established by its Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and is reviewing the APHIS report,” Olsen said. 

“This law is the only way that legal action can be taken against (the university) for breaking the law,” Ellison said. “As for how effective it really is, they were just fined $5,800 and then a month later killed 20 animals. So there you go for (lack of) effectiveness.” 

Editors Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct distinction of the violation placed on CSU, as well as vaccine guidance on the state level. 

Reach Allie Seibel and Piper Russell at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @csucollegian.