Animal research facilities under fire
That's how area land-grant university officials describe animal research programs that intermix private and state-owned research livestock. A recent state audit found just that at North Dakota State University's main-station sheep farm in...
That's how area land-grant university officials describe animal research programs that intermix private and state-owned research livestock.
A recent state audit found just that at North Dakota State University's main-station sheep farm in Fargo.
In March, NDSU's 1,500-head flock of sheep was identified as a source of the degenerative disease scrapie. Farm manager Wes Limesand had used a state-owned trailer to transport 50 of his personally owned sheep from the NDSU farm to a private pasture north of Moorhead, NDSU Auditor Jean Ostrom-Blonigen reported.
In the absence of policies and internal controls, private livestock have also commingled and been kept with state-owned animals at other NDSU research farms, said Patricia Jensen, NDSU's vice president, dean and director for agricultural affairs.
"I have been told in some phone calls that there has been (commingling) at other stations, and I'm following up on that," Jensen said.
Commingling private and state-owned research livestock poses health risks, creates the opportunity for the misuse of state property and can compromise research, officials at four other upper Midwest land-grant universities said.
"That's lax. It would not be a viable situation," said Abel Ponce de Leon, head of the animal science department at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. "
"We have no examples where people have their own personal livestock commingled with research animals. That's not allowed," said Kevin Kephart, director of South Dakota State University's agricultural experiment stations.
Neither is it allowed at Montana State University in Bozeman or at Iowa State University in Ames.
"That would not be acceptable under our guidelines," said Sue Lamont, head of Iowa State's Department of Animal Science.
"There would be the issue of biosecurity," Lamont said. "Private animals would not be brought into the system under the same protocols as state livestock. There's also the perception that, possibly, state allocated funds would be supporting the production of these commingled but privately owned animals."
Officials at neighboring universities said they have been reviewing their biosecurity protocols over the last year and, in some cases, are beefing them up in response to animal disease outbreaks in Europe.
An NDSU auditor and later state auditors began looking into the sheep farm's management after the university's flock of about 1,500 sheep were identified in early March as a source of scrapie, a degenerative disease that affects sheep and goats.
State animal health officials quarantined the flock March 11.
Four days before the quarantine, Limesand used a state-owned trailer to transport his sheep from the NDSU farm to a private pasture north of Moorhead.
Private use of public property is a violation of state law and NDSU policy, auditors said.
After reviewing the internal audit, NDSU President Joseph Chapman asked the state auditor's office to conduct another audit of the farm.
The state audit recommended that NDSU establish policies prohibiting the commingling of state-owned and private livestock.
"There is the question as to whether the state provided feed, pasture, shelter and veterinarian services to these private animals," the state audit reports.
The audit also found that adequate inventory records were not maintained at the sheep farm.
Limesand has remained on paid administrative leave since the internal audit was released March 15. University officials are considering his future with the school.
NDSU is addressing concerns raised in the audit and will prohibit employees from keeping private livestock on all state-run farms, Jensen said.
For exceptions, such as breeding programs, contracts will be drawn up to regulate commingling of private and state animals, she said.
Jensen said she has sent a copy of the state audit to all research station directors and plans to meet with them about the audit's findings.
The neighboring universities said they too allow exceptions under contract.
NDSU officials have set up committees within the Department of Animal Science to help implement new safeguards, Jensen said.
She also has asked animal health experts at NDSU to evaluate the university's biosecurity measures for any other weaknesses, Jensen said.
"Biosecurity is a critical issue and that is why we have pulled these people into this," she said.
Jensen said she wasn't made aware that private livestock were kept on university farms until after the internal audit was issued.
"I need to have more information than I was given," Jensen said. "It's important to me to have an organizational model that allows the information to get to administration. I want to see why I didn't get this information."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Jeff Zent at (701) 241-5526