In Short

Lawmakers pass bill requiring more accountability from OHSU Primate Center

By: - June 22, 2023 3:18 pm
Rhesus Macaques at OHSU in 2008

Deaths at the Oregon Health & Science University’s primate center in Beaverton have included rhesus macaques and other animals. The Legislature has passed a bill with more accountability for the center to report deaths. File photo from 2008. (Oregon Health & Science University)

The Oregon National Primate Research Center would have to be more transparent about the nearly 5,000 primates in its care under a bill headed to Gov. Tina Kotek’s desk.

House Bill 2904 would require Oregon Health & Science University, which runs the center, to annually publish online information including the number of primates in the facility and how many were bought or sold, born and used for research or breeding. 

The Senate passed the measure with a 22-2 vote Wednesday. The House passed the bill in April with a 51-1 vote.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Democratic Rep. David Gomberg of Otis, proposed the legislation after reviewing more than 1,600 pages of public records about the center. In one instance, two adult monkeys in 2020 were scalded to death in cage-washing equipment after a technician failed to remove them from their cage. 

Dozens of employees raised concerns after the incident about a “lack of leadership” in a signed petition to the center’s management that said it has a record of other animals dying due to neglect. 

The bill also would require the university to report the injuries and deaths of primates that resulted in a citation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which inspects the center. In the past, the federal agency has fined the center for violations linked to animal deaths and injuries.

“Reasonable people can disagree on whether using animals for medical research is scientifically valid or ethical,” Gomberg said in a statement. “But we have to agree that it’s not being done very well here in Oregon. There must be accountability, and if leadership can’t fix the problems, there has to be intervention.”

From 2005 to 2020, the center had at least 17 primate deaths due to negligence, according to federal records.

In October, OHSU agreed to pay a nearly $38,000 fine to settle a U.S. Department of Agriculture enforcement case. Federal regulators flagged problems that included five prairie voles – one of them euthanized – who died of thirst after they didn’t receive water. In another incident, a monkey was euthanized after its head got caught between two pipes that were part of a resting platform and perch. 

OHSU officials have said they always strive for high standards and take animal injuries and deaths seriously. Serious incidents are reported to OHSU’s Research Integrity Office for investigations and reports sent to the university’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee for follow-up actions.

That work has led to actions that include additional staff training and protocols, including a two-person system to verify that cages are empty before they are washed.

The facility is one of seven national primate research centers in the United States that conduct medical research. The other six are in Washington state, California, Wisconsin, Texas, Louisiana and Georgia.


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Ben Botkin
Ben Botkin

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. Ben Botkin has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report. Botkin has won multiple journalism awards for his investigative and enterprise reporting, including on education, state budgets and criminal justice.