A watchdog group is calling for a federal fine against St. Joseph's Hospital after federal inspectors discovered starving cats in a lab at the facility's research institute.
A USDA inspection report from July cited the Barrow Neurological Research Institute for violations concerning the level of veterinary care and supervision during lab experiments, according to SAEN, a national research watchdog organization. SAEN stands for Stop Animal Exploitation NOW.
The most serious of the violations purposely deprived animals of food, SAEN said. One cat was allowed to drop from 10.4 pounds to 8.4 pounds while undergoing "food restriction," the watchdog group said.
A similar inspection report from the USDA in July 2012 also cited the lab for depriving cats of food. One cat lost 17 percent his body weight in less than a month. The inspection also cited the lab for other serious veterinary care issues. A 2011 USDA inspection cited the lab for similar violations, SAEN stated.
SAEN said it has filed an official complaint against Barrow/St. Joseph's, which insists on additional citations for unqualified personnel as well as a federal fine.
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center sent CBS 5 News the following statement:
"St. Joseph's and Barrow treat research animals with compassion and respect. We take any possible violation very seriously. It is important to note that St. Joseph's and Barrow have never had a major USDA violation.
"Regarding these specific instances, at no time were any of the animals at risk or in danger. In fact, they were in good health as determined by the veterinary staff. In these cases, the issues involved minor documentation and protocol errors.
"We immediately corrected all issues and reinforced our strong training practices. A full-time on-site veterinarian has always overseen the care of research animals, and St. Joseph's and Barrow adhere to the strictest national and international guidelines for the humane care of laboratory animals.
"St. Joseph's and Barrow are accredited by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Care International and adhere to the regulations and guidelines of the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health.
"Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advancement of the last century – for both human and animal health."
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