MADISON, Wis. — A government lab in Madison that researches dangerous illnesses such as chronic wasting disease and West Nile virus has mishandled some of the animals used in testing and needs increased oversight, an environmental group has alleged.

In its complaint filed Thursday with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility urged the department to allow an outside group to accredit its animal research facilities — including the Madison research center, which is the principal wildlife disease laboratory of the U.S. Geological Survey, the scientific research arm of the Department of Interior.

The Maryland-based group based its complaint on public records, alleging necropsies were performed on only a small percentage of the animals that died or were euthanized at the center.

U.S. Geological Survey spokeswoman A.B. Wade said the group’s complaint had “a number of inaccuracies.” She noted the lab, like most others, only does necropsies when warranted.

The complaint said eight animal care-related violations were reported to the National Institutes of Health from 2010 to 2014, including the deaths of 16 mallard ducklings in transit, the discarding of a live vole with its bedding and the inadequate training of staffers who work with the animals.

Wade said an independent animal care and use expert inspected the facility in 2013 or 2014 and found no animal welfare violations but did note staffing shortages.

She said the center has hired a full-time attending veterinarian and lead care technician since the inspection concluded the facility was understaffed. The facility employs more than 70 scientists who study animal diseases, according to its website.

The environmental group says submitting to outside accreditation, as some government facilities choose to do, would ensure the department resolves past issues and complies with scientific standards.

The National Wildlife Health Center is regularly inspected by a committee that reports to NIH.

Dr. Howard Steinberg, a veterinary pathologist at UW-Madison who was part of the committee for several years beginning in 2006, said he didn’t recall seeing anything particularly alarming, but believes “an institute of that stature” would benefit from a voluntary external accreditation.


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