Federal regulators have fined Harvard Medical School $24,036 for repeated animal welfare violations in its care of monkeys used in research, an unusual penalty for an academic institution.
The fine, announced Wednesday by the Department of Agriculture, covers 11 violations from February 2011 through July 2012, including four involving animal deaths.
The government's decision to penalize Harvard for the violations ended a lengthy investigation of the medical school's two animal facilities that led to changes in leadership.
Most of the problems occurred at Harvard's New England Primate Research Center in Southborough, Mass. Harvard made a surprise announcement in April that it intends to largely shut down the center by 2015. Harvard's smaller animal facility in Boston will remain open.
The Department of Agriculture licenses about 1,300 animal research facilities, and has often cited the operations for violations. But financial penalties are relatively rare.
In the past two years, about eight other research facilities have been fined from $8,571 to $38,571. Five included violations involving monkeys.
In a statement, Harvard Medical School said officials there think the federal fine is appropriate. "The leadership of the school cares deeply about upholding exemplary standards of care," it said.
Regulators could have fined Harvard as much as $10,000 for each violation. Harvard said in its statement that it believes the much lower assessment is attributable to its "aggressive action to institute rigorous quality improvements that benefit animal safety."
The medical school enlisted an independent panel of scientists that reviewed its primate operations and made recommendations last year for improvements in oversight policies and training.
In one December 2011 episode, employees failed to notice that a watering device malfunctioned, and two primates became dehydrated. One had to be euthanized. Two months later, another primate became dehydrated when employees failed to give it a water bottle. That animal had to be euthanized, too.
In April 2012, a macaque monkey died in its cage after becoming enmeshed in a chain. Three months later, a federal inspector noticed a monkey with a metal object in its mouth, according to Department of Agriculture records.
Animal activists expressed disappointment in the penalty.
"For an institution that receives $185 million annually in taxpayer funds alone, half of which is spent on animal experiments, a $24,000 fine for years of abusing and neglecting monkeys won't motivate Harvard to do better by animals," said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.