Feds Cite Virginia Tech for Critical Violation of Federal Law After More Animal Deaths: PETA Statement

For Immediate Release:
August 4, 2023

Tasgola Bruner 202-483-7382

Blacksburg, Va.

Please see the following statement from PETA Senior Vice President of Laboratory Investigations Kathy Guillermo regarding the citation issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) for a critical violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act:

In a just-posted inspection report (IR), U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors cited Virginia Tech after unqualified staff failed—for an entire week—to notice the plight of ailing gerbils until two died without veterinary care and a third was so critically ill that he had to be euthanized. Two survivors required emergency care.

This development follows another critical citation pertaining to an incident documented in an IR in January, in which an untrained person squeezed a gerbil so tightly to restrain the animal for a blood draw that they—according to the university’s own documents—“cut off the gerbil’s ability to draw breath.” That animal also had to be euthanized. In that same IR, inspectors also cited Virginia Tech for failing to include gerbils in its annual census. These animals were slated to be used in a “pain category E” experiment, meaning that they would be subjected to procedures causing pain or distress with no pain relief.

Virginia Tech vigorously lobbied against bills introduced during the Commonwealth’s 2023 General Assembly session that would have implemented additional penalties and fines for critical violations as well as increasing transparency and requiring annual census reports of animals used in experiments who are not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). As a gesture of good faith and in an effort to understand the university’s strong opposition to measures aiming to achieve compliance with the AWA, one of the bills, SB 1230 (Stanley R-20), was passed by for the year. At Sen. William M. Stanley Jr.’s request, senators Chapman Petersen (D-34) and David Marsden (D-37), who chair the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Subcommittee on Companion Animals, respectively, sent a letter to the president of Virginia Tech, seeking answers to a series of questions about the school’s animal welfare violations and plans to prevent future ones. The university’s response to the letter can be found here.

Virginia Tech has amassed five critical violations in just three years, including for the death by starvation of a piglet, failing to render aid to a calf, and multiple violations involving the care of gerbils. It’s past time for the university to redirect its resources toward modern, non-animal research methods that will actually help humans. We urge officials there to adopt PETA’s Research Modernization Deal.

According to documents obtained by PETA through public records requests, 24 gerbils who were only 6 to 8 weeks old were used in experiments in which they were infected with different strains of a virus causing them pain from which they would be given no relief. They would be allowed to suffer until they experienced labored breathing, severely unkempt coats, severe hunching, and poor responsiveness and would be unable to stand, at which point they would be killed. In a second study, 14 pregnant gerbils would be killed at 24 days into their pregnancy and their fetuses would be removed and decapitated.

For more information on PETA’s investigative newsgathering and reporting, please visit PETA.org, listen to The PETA Podcast, or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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