Letter of Complaint to USDA About SW Foundation for Biomedical Research, San Antonio, TX

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Stop animal Exploitation Now! (S.A.E.N.)
1081-B St. Rt. 28 #280
Milford, Ohio 45150

September 22, 2010

Kathleen Sebelius
Secretary of Health & Human Services
Room 120F
200 Independence Ave. S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201

Secretary Sebelius,

I am contacting you today because I am very concerned about the proposed move of 186 chimpanzees to the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. This facility is infamous for recent instances of negligence which have killed animals. Additionally, recently obtained documents have raised serious questions about the potential for fraud within this facility.

USDA inspection reports for the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research raise very serious questions about the animal care at this facility. A USDA inspection report for the Southwest Foundation of Biomedical Research dated April 3, 2007 relates an incident in which a post-mortem dissection was started on a baboon who was not yet dead. This incident clearly indicates untrained personnel, inadequate monitoring of research procedures and general incompetence. This is only the first of several incidents at this facility.

A 2009 inspection discusses an incident in which several primates were “ . . . standing in several inches of fecal/food contaminated water and their coats were wet.” Several other issues of Animal Welfare Act were also documented in this inspection, including violations in areas of Environmental Enhancement, Cleaning, Sanitation, etc.

The violations continue at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SWFBR) into February of 2010 when a young primate died due to overnight exposure to subfreezing temperatures. This is a second incident of fatal negligence at SWFBR.

However, the negligence doesn’t stop there. We have recently obtained an Annual Report of Research Facility form dated May 1, 2009, filed with the USDA by SWFBR. Even the date of this report raises questions about the reporting process used by SWFBR. Annual Animal Use Reports are supposed to be filed before the end of the year. Why was this report filed over five moths late?

This report details the deaths of many primates which appear to be connected to negligence or inadequate veterinary care. The report states: “1 NHP was euthanized for dehydration due to accidental interruption of water on the weekend.” This incident clearly exemplifies totally inadequate observation of primates at SWFBR as well as insufficient monitoring of equipment. It should not require the death of a primate to ascertain that SWFBR had a plumbing problem. This incident raises several other questions. The report states that this incident was disclosed to the USDA. However, USDA inspection reports do not mention this incident at all. Apparently, no action whatsoever was taken against SWFBR in this case. Shouldn’t the USDA have taken some action, at least performing an inspection to ascertain that this watering issue had been resolved? And if an inspection was performed, why is the report not available?

This report also discusses at least five primates used in studies of pathological conditions who were simply “found dead.” This raises serious concerns as to whether these, and potentially other animals, received adequate veterinary care, if they were observed adequately, etc. This is extremely important because these animals are described as suffering severely. The report mentions conditions such as: “labored breathing, 15% weight loss within two weeks, complete anorexia for 24 hours, fever greater than 105 degrees F, appearance of maculopopular rash, lethargy, thrombocytopenia, severe bruising, or petechia.” These symptoms are clearly very severe and would cause substantial suffering on the part of the animals involved in this project. Additionally, there even seems to be confusion as to whether a sixth animal was “found dead” or not. This does not present a picture of a well-run laboratory. Shouldn’t they know if the animals was found dead or not?

However, there is another issue which must raise serious questions regarding the competence of officials at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research. As you know, all facilities that receive federal funding are required to file progress reports for the grants which they receive. SWFBR is the recipient of one of the grants which fund the National Primate Research Center system. Their grant is number 5P51RR013986. During the report for the period ending 4/29/2007 the progress report states that the population of the primate colony at SWFBR is 5652 primates on the ending date, which falls within the 2007 reporting year for the USDA. The USDA report for this same period (dated December 15, 2007) states that SWFBR had 2340 primates who had not yet been experimented on and 2679 that were actually used in experimentation, for a total of 5019 primates. There should be no discrepancy in these statistics, since the USDA report encompasses the period which should include 4/29/2007. It is possible that the progress report could be less than the USDA report, but not the reverse.

In other words, SWFBR reported 633 more primates to the National Institutes of Health (funding agency) than it reported to the USDA (regulatory agency). I can see several potential explanations for this discrepancy. First, it is possible that SWFBR has some reasons for attempting to hide 633 primates from the USDA due to potential regulatory complications. Second, it is possible that SWFBR was attempting to obtain funding from the National Institutes of Health for housing, vet care, etc. for primates who did not exist, constituting fraud. Third, the regulatory compliance staff at SWFBR is substantially incompetent, providing conflicting information to separate agencies. Whichever possibility is true, this, again, is not the picture of a well-run research facility.

In summary, within a period of less than three years, 1 primate died at SWFBR of exposure to subfreezing temperatures, another primate died of dehydration due to a watering malfunction, the post-mortem for another primate was commenced before the animal was dead, five primates were “found dead” potentially without adequate veterinary care, the facility filed a report at least 5 months late, and the facility filed conflicting reports with two separate federal agencies.

Therefore, in light of these many issues which clearly demonstrate major problems within both animal care and accountability at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, I officially request that you immediately commission an investigation of all of these incidents at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research and that all plans for expansion at this facility be immediately suspended. This is quite obviously a laboratory that cannot adequately care the animals which are already in their possession, let alone count them correctly.

In particular, I believe that it is of the utmost importance that the proposed transfer of chimpanzees from the Alamogordo Primate Facility to the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research be permanently prohibited. This is a facility that cannot insure that animals are observed adequately, given adequate food and/or water, or even kept indoors when temperatures are below freezing. Additionally, their inability to even file reports in a timely fashion, the possibility of either fraud or utterly inaccurate reporting, indicate that the regulatory compliance officials at this facility are clearly inept. This is not the kind of facility that should be receiving a large influx of chimpanzees. If anything, the chimpanzees which this facility already has should be sent to other, safer facilities.

If these chimpanzees are transferred to the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research I have grave fears for their safety in the most basic sense. Will they receive adequate water? Will they have adequate shelter from the elements? Will the staff of SWFBR notice that they are ill before they are simply “found dead”?

Therefore, I must again insist that an immediate investigation of all animal care and regulatory compliance at this facility be launched. This investigation should include a thorough examination of all primate health care records at Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research for the past 3 years, giving special care to explanations of cause of death, and adequate veterinary care. Additionally, I believe that it is crucial that this investigation be conducted by a panel of experts in primate care and that at least 50% of the panel performing this investigation be unbiased representatives of the public and animal protection community.

I expect that your office will reply to this correspondence within five business days.

Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T.,
Executive Director, SAEN

See Also:
SW Foundation for Biomedical Research, San Antonio, TX
USDA - APHIS Report - 2009
USDA - APHIS Report - 2007
USDA Inspection Report - 28 Feb 2010
22 Sep 2010 - Research Watchdog Group Calls for Federal Probe of Southwest Foundation; Reports Reveal Multiple Negligent Deaths at Future Home of Alamogordo Chimps
Letter of Complaint to USDA About SW Foundation for Biomedical Research, San Antonio, TX

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