CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has fined the University of Wyoming more than $8,500 for neglecting a group of thin and sick kid goats that had been genetically modified for research into producing fibers as strong as spider silk.
The young goats at a university laboratory included two that were very thin and one that died of an intestinal parasite, according to a citation and penalty notice from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
The University of Wyoming acknowledges the problems and paid the $8,571 fine under a July 25 settlement agreement with APHIS, university spokesman Chad Baldwin said Friday.
Vet care needed
“These goats apparently got sick and were being treated by the researchers,” he said. “We should have called in the attending veterinarian to direct that treatment.”
APHIS alleged two Animal Welfare Act violations based on problems spotted during a 2010 inspection.
One violation was for not notifying a veterinarian about the problems with the animals. The other was for failing to remove expired veterinary medication from treatment areas so that the medicines wouldn’t be used.
At least one animal welfare advocacy group took note.
“If this lab can’t do what is considered basic animal husbandry, why should we believe they can do science?” said Michael Budkie, executive director of the Milford, Ohio-based group Stop Animal Exploitation Now.
The coccidia parasite that killed the goat is common, he pointed out.
“The lack of care that these animals were receiving was extremely negligent because coccidia is something that can be treated,” Budkie said. “This goat should not have died.”
Ribs, hips protruding
Out of a flock of 10 goats, two were “very thin” with visible ribs and protruding hip bones, while at least five kids had dried fecal material on their rear ends. The fecal material indicated the goats had diarrhea, an APHIS inspection report stated.
The goats were born with spider genes intended to get them to produce milk containing proteins that go into spider silk, Baldwin said.
Spider silk is extraordinarily strong for its diameter. Milk produced by the genetically modified goats, in theory, would advance research into developing super-strong materials.
The genetic modifications aren’t thought to have played a role in the goats’ condition. Research with the spider-silk goats is no longer being done at the University of Wyoming, Baldwin said.