By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday said it has fined Harvard Medical School $24,000 for repeated animal welfare violations at its research facilities that resulted in the deaths of four monkeys since 2011.
The government's decision to fine the elite university follows a lengthy probe into mistreatment of primates at its animal research labs in Massachusetts, one of which Harvard announced this year it plans to close.
The USDA fine cited 11 incidents in 2011 and 2012, including several that noted laboratory personnel handling the animals were not properly trained or qualified.
In one case in February, 2011, a laboratory worker overdosed a monkey with anesthetic, causing it to die of liver failure. In two other cases, monkeys died after being deprived of water and in another case a monkey died after a metal chain attached to a toy in its cage wrapped around its neck, strangling him.
All four deaths occurred at Harvard's lab in Southborough, Massachusetts, which the school announced this year it plans to close for financial reasons. Harvard has a smaller research center with primates in Boston, which will stay open.
A Harvard spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on Wednesday. Harvard Medical School released a statement to the Boston Globe saying it believes the federal fine is appropriate.
The incidents, most of which were previously reported, had already caused Harvard to revamp some of its research procedures and make some staffing changes. (Editing by Gunna Dickson)