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Sunday, January 14, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Primate center cleared

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HILLSBORO, Ore. -- The Oregon Regional Primate Research Center has been cleared of allegations that it abused animals.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture asked center officials to improve the housing of caged monkeys, provide fresh produce more regularly, explore new ways to collect semen samples, and gather monkeys in a less stressful manner.

The USDA gave the center until March 1 to plan improvements.

"There's no rebuttal on my part," said Dr. Art Hall, chief veterinarian for Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), who oversees animal care at the primate center. "We'll work to do some things better."

Last summer, Matt Rossell, a former employee who had worked as an undercover investigator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, accused the primate center of keeping monkeys in filth and small cages, conducting careless and sometimes needless surgeries, and letting unskilled workers give shots.

Rossell, who quit the center in May, showed a videotape of monkeys huddling near clumps of feces, of a monkey that chewed a large gash in his arm, and of caged monkeys screeching as if in pain.

Primate-center officials dismissed Rossell's secretly taped footage as contrived, but when Rossell and the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a formal complaint with the Agriculture Department in September, the agency sent six officials to investigate.

W. Ron DeHaven, a deputy administrator, outlined the agency's findings Wednesday in a letter to OHSU that was obtained by The Oregonian. The letter absolves the center of virtually all of Rossell's complaints.

"I wasn't holding my breath," said Rossell, who accuses the Agriculture Department of failing to protect lab animals.

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