Watchdog group wants probe at SC primate facility

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By MEG KINNARD - Associated Press Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- An Ohio-based watchdog group on Monday called on the federal government to investigate a South Carolina primate facility, saying its operators are abusing some of the thousands of research monkeys at a breeding lab by not protecting them from the cold or paying proper attention to their injuries.

"We're not saying that the cages weren't clean," said Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now. "We're talking about animals literally being torn apart here."

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Budkie says he was able to get U.S. Department of Agriculture reports for about half of the 3,460 primates at Alpha Genesis Inc.'s facility in Yemassee, about 65 miles west of Charleston, where the company breeds monkeys that are sold for research.

Those documents, which include injury reports and inspection records, show at least 170 primates are missing body parts, from fingers to limbs. At least one primate was cut across the abdomen and its internal organs were spilling out, Budkie said.

While not accusing Alpha Genesis of causing the animals that sort of injury, the complaint says the trauma is evidence of inadequate veterinary care.

Among the allegations:

- A number of primates suffered frostbite - some cases so severe limbs or tails needed to be amputated - as a result of inadequate protection from cold;

- From November 2008 to March 2009, about a half-dozen primates died of hypothermia, while roughly the same number died from heat exhaustion or hyperthermia from June 2008 to spring of last year;

- 171 primates lost a body part, ranging from fingers to tails and limbs, as a result of trauma.

"The Animal Welfare Act violations at the Alpha Genesis facility are serious, widespread, and often deadly," Budkie wrote in an April 7 letter to the USDA. "It is amazing to me that such barbarity could take place at a facility in the United States."

In addition to an investigation into Alpha Genesis' practices, Budkie says he also wants an inquiry into the USDA's inspection process. Labs like Alpha Genesis are supposed to be inspected annually, and Budkie says the reports he's received from the agency say inspectors didn't find any noncompliance issues in 2008 or 2009.

"Someone in there is allowing these kinds of things to happen," Budkie said. "No inspector in their right mind is this blind."

Greg Westergaard, Alpha Genesis's chief executive, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Dave Sacks, a spokesman for USDA, said the agency will take the issue seriously and will send an inspector to the facility, which he said is set up to mirror the animals' natural environment as much as possible.

"A lot of times, these animals sort out who's on top, and who's on bottom, in the pecking order, by fighting," Sacks said.

This is the second time Budkie's group has gone after Alpha Genesis. In 2008, the USDA cleared the lab of abuse allegations after Budkie claimed some of the thousands of animals at the site were missing fingers and toes, saying they found no evidence of mistreatment.

See Also:
9 Apr 2010 - Charleston research facility faces call for federal probe after internal reports show primates killed, mutilated; watchdog calls facility ‘worst,’ part of US ‘epidemic’
Alpha-Genesis, Yemassee, SC

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