A press release issued on Monday by national research watchdog Stop Animal Exploitation Now criticizes New Mexico Tech for violating animal cruelty laws.

The group says it obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request a previously unreleased report in which New Mexico Tech admitted a member of its Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee has been permanently banned from animal use and expelled from that committee. SAEN wants the university to admit “it was forced to ban a researcher from all future animal experiments for abusing animals and breaking federal laws.”

The group asserts that the admitted cause for the action was the individual’s multiple federal violations “that allowed animals to die without food or water, some of whom resorted to cannibalism.”

The experimental project associated with the violations was terminated.

The group said it has contacted university President Stephen Wells, calling for the termination of all staff associated with the halted project, refunding of the grant, retraction of all publications connected to the project, and an internal audit of New Mexico Tech’s animal use program, and reconstitution of the IACUC.

The group has also made similar demands at other institutions doing animal research using federal funding, including Clemson University, University of Florida, Washington State University, University of Michigan, University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia State University, Sanford Research in South Dakota, and a USDA facility in Ames, Iowa, among others.

SAEN’s press release states that if New Mexico Tech fails to make meaningful changes, the watchdog group will seek the termination of the university’s ‘Animal Welfare Assurance,’ which would end all federally funded projects.

“Revocation of the New Mexico Tech Animal Welfare Assurance will effectively terminate all animal-based federally funded projects,” said Michael A. Budkie, co-founder of SAEN, in his letter to the university.

When apprised of the group’s demands, Tech was quick to respond.

Mikell Coleman, Tech’s Director of Research Compliance, said in a statement the university has long-standing processes in place to address issues and complaints regarding those activities.

“Concerns raised by the organization highlight a 2021 incident involving a New Mexico Tech researcher utilizing laboratory animals in federally funded research awarded to NMT,” he said. “Concerns regarding the practices of the individual researcher were reported by a staff member and elevated to the New Mexico Tech Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, the governing body responsible for approving and reviewing animal research practices at the university.”

The researcher involved in the reported incident was a member of the IACUC, and “pursuant to IACUC procedures, the researcher was disallowed from participating in the investigation in any capacity other than as its subject.”

Coleman also states the researcher’s privileges to work with animals were suspended pending the outcome of the IACUC investigation.

The findings concluded:

  • The researcher’s privileges to conduct animal research at New Mexico Tech were terminated.
  • The National Institutes of Health Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare was notified of the investigation’s findings and funding for the research was terminated voluntarily by NMT.
  • The researcher in question was the only individual engaged in this type of research at the institution and the incident effectively ended that type of research at New Mexico Tech.

A Tech spokesperson said the IACUC and Research Compliance staff takes animal welfare seriously, and procedures the institute has in place to respond to, investigate and correct incidents involving animal research functioned as intended.

“The conduct was discovered and reported, thoroughly investigated, and subsequently adjudicated,” the university states. “The corrective actions taken were the most severe actions the IACUC and the New Mexico Tech Research Office had the authority to take.”

Chieftain Staff Report