Near-record fine too light for SNBL
labs, say SAEN, AWI, & PETA
By Merritt Clifton, Animals 24-7, December 10, 2016
Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories rapped for deaths of 38 macaques, among other Animal Welfare Act violations
EVERETT, Washington––Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have all denounced as too light the near-record $185,000 fine and other penalties issued against the Japanese-owned company Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories (SNBL) on December 2, 2016 by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service.
Acting on a complaint filed by SAEN on May 20, 2014, USDA-APHIS announced that the SNBL license to sell monkeys from the company’s U.S. facilities in Everett, Washington and Alice, Texas “is suspended for 30 calendar days, beginning December 22, 2016, and continuing thereafter until respondent has successfully passed APHIS inspections at respondent’s licensed sites, demonstrating to APHIS that it is in compliance” with the U.S. federal Animal Welfare Act.
“APHIS shall, at a time that is mutually agreeable to both parties, schedule compliance inspections to occur upon the conclusion of the 30-day suspension period,” the USDA-APHIS announcement continued. “Once respondent establishes that it is in compliance” with the Animal Welfare Act and all relevant enforcement regulations, “APHIS will file a motion for a supplemental order lifting the license suspension.”
Repeated similar fatal accidents
USDA-APHIS acted, the settlement agreement with SNBL stipulates, because “Despite having been advised on multiple occasions by APHlS of noncompliance” with Animal Welfare Act requirements, SNBL “has continued to fail to meet the minimum requirements.”
For example, the settlement agreement recounted, “In 2010, APHIS officials obtained records that showed that three animals in [SNBL] custody died and one animal escaped,” in a series of similar incidents.
Specifically, “On January 8, 2010, an infant nonhuman primate escaped its primary enclosure through a chain link fence that was large enough to allow the escape. On January 25, 2010, an infant nonhuman primate escaped its primary enclosure through a similar chain link fence, and died, with its head stuck on the outside panel of an enclosure. On September 9, 2010, a nonhuman primate reached through the wires on its fencing, pulled the cable for the guillotine door into its enclosure, became entangled in the cable, and died by strangulation.”
Then, in an almost identical incident, “On October 25, 2010, a nonhuman primate reached through the wires and mesh on its fencing, pulled a cable for the guillotine door into its enclosure, became entangled in the cable and was found dead, with the cable wrapped around its neck.”
“Gravity is great”
Emphasized USDA-APHIS, “The gravity of the violations alleged in this complaint is great and includes 38 deaths of nonhuman primates and repeated instances in which [SNBL] failed to provide adequate veterinary care to animals and failed to meet the minimum standards for its facilities.
“Respondent’s alleged violations occurred over an extended period of time,” USDA-APHIS said, citing additional alleged Animal Welfare Act violations occurring “from December 26, 2011 through May 4, 2016.”
Summarized Everett Herald reporter Jim Davis, “The majority of the monkey deaths — 25 of the 38 — happened in October 2013, when the company sent 840 long-tailed macaques from Cambodia, to Houston, Texas. Upon arrival, SNBL veterinarians observed that that the monkeys were thirsty and appeared weak, thin and in poor shape. The company did not provide veterinary care to the macaques, but sent 360 of them to its facility in Alice, Texas and 480 to Everett, the complaint alleges.
“Five macaques died before arrival, 17 died or were euthanized shortly after, and three more monkeys died in the next five days. The deaths were attributed to organ failure caused by dehydration and hypoglycemia, according to the complaint.”
Macaques worried themselves bald
A USDA-APHIS inspection report dated November 1, 2016, obtained and provided to ANIMALS 24-7 by SAEN, further found that required Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee documents describing on the disposition of beagles, macaques, and pigs used in terminal experiments either “did not have a complete description of the method of euthanasia” or “did not have an appropriate description of the method of euthanasia.”
“During the inspection,” the USDA-APHIS report added, “a number of macaques were identified with stereotypic behaviors, including alopecia [spot baldness] consistent with aberrant grooming. Several of these animals did not have any observation or treatment plan listed in their medical records.”
Mixed up babies
Further, the inspection report mentioned, “During a toxicity study, two cynomolgus macaque infants were placed with incorrect dams [mothers] following infant handling training, resulting in the death of one of the infants. The facility concluded the most likely cause of death was maternal neglect.
“The facility self-reported the incident,” the USDA-APHIS report acknowledged, “and has implemented corrective actions to prevent this type of incident from reoccurring.
“The facility also self-reported an incident with a male cynomolgus macaque who was found dead with a chain from an enrichment foraging device around his neck, causing apparent asphyxiation.”
SNBL also undertook corrective actions after that incident, the USDA-APHIS inspectors recounted.
“One of the worst offenders”
SAEN told members via Facebook that although SNBL received the “third-largest lab fine in USDA history,” and lost its operating permits for 30 days, the penalties are “not large enough.”
“At least now SNBL is labeled one of the worst offenders,” SAEN acknowledged.
“PETA criticized the fine as ‘a drop in the bucket’ for a company like SNBL,” wrote Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Doughton.
“Dirty player in ugly business”
Said PETA senior vice president of laboratory investigations Kathy Guillermo, “SNBL is a dirty player in an ugly business and PETA urges federal agencies to cancel all contracts with the company so that our taxes aren’t supporting this misery.”
Agreed Animal Welfare Institute president Cathy Liss, “Not only is the financial penalty tiny for a business whose parent company has a market value of nearly $200 million, but the short-lived suspension overlaps with the holiday season—when operations are traditionally slow, anyway. Thus, the USDA is providing no forceful repercussions that would induce SNBL or other such entities to comply with the law. Given that this is the fourth enforcement action against SNBL,” Liss added, “the USDA’s abdication of its responsibility to enforce the Animal Welfare Act is shameful and a major setback for proper enforcement of the law.
“The experts in primate research”
“SNBL, which calls itself ‘the experts in primate research,’” Liss reminded, “is a contract research organization that also imports, breeds, and sells nonhuman primates. The company has been on the USDA’s enforcement radar since at least 2002, with stipulated penalty fines issued in 2006 ($31,852), 2008 ($12,937), and 2009 ($1,406). The USDA did not issue any fine, however, after a monkey was boiled alive in a cage washer at SNBL in 2007.”
Liss further objected that after the 30-day suspension, “Compliance will be determined following scheduled USDA inspections; such inspections are traditionally unannounced,” she said, “to prevent facilities from covering up possible violations.”
“Motion to seal”
Of additional concern to Liss, and to Houston Press reporter Craig Malisow, who has followed developments involving SNBL for some time, “The USDA—in concert with SNBL—filed a ‘motion to seal’ to prevent vital facts from this case being made available to the general public,” Malisow wrote. “This motion—ultimately granted—was filed weeks after AWI obtained the original, unredacted USDA complaint against the company via a Freedom of Information Act request. It was only after the incriminating allegations detailed in the complaint resulted in widespread media coverage that the USDA filed the motion. As a result, a redacted complaint has now replaced the original document on the hearing docket, with crucial information blacked from the public eye. The motion to seal indicated a buckling by the USDA to the wishes of the company to keep the case details quiet.”
“While the disturbing descriptions of the monkeys’ deaths — which include thirst, suffocation and strangulation — remain intact,” Malisow continued, “USDA curiously asked for the original complaint to be sealed and replaced with a copy that redacts the company’s financial information, the number of animals it imported and the name of its registered agent, Mark Honda.
“Much of the redacted information is publicly available elsewhere,” Malisow pointed out, “including the USDA’s own online database.”
“The USDA’s motion to seal the original complaint is especially troubling to AWI President Cathy Liss,” explained Malisow, “because of the nearly simultaneous decision by an administrative law judge to no longer allow the online posting of docket activity that lets advocacy groups — and the public — know about complaints in the first place.”
SNBL on October 27, 2015 announced that it had won a contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, “for the development of ‘chemical, radiological, and nuclear countermeasures’ as part of the national security effort’,” but how this might explain a concern for concealing information already accessible on the public record is unclear.
Concluded Malisow, “Any limitation of public information regarding violations of the Animal Welfare Act is of concern. That offenders can continue to procure lucrative taxpayer-funded contracts is even more frustrating.”
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