USDA investigating Santa Cruz Biotechnology:
Animal research facility out of compliance in 2010 and 2011

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USDA investigating Santa Cruz Biotechnology: Animal research facility out of compliance in 2010 and 2011

By Jondi Gumz (Santa Cruz Sentinel) April 18, 2011

SANTA CRUZ - The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating veterinary care at Santa Cruz Biotechnology after inspections at the research facility twice last year found a dozen sick or injured goats in pain, including one awaiting euthanization.

USDA spokesman Dave Sacks confirmed the investigation Monday in the wake of allegations by Ohio animal research watchdog Michael Budkie that "places like Santa Cruz Biotechnology get a free pass" and "the USDA system is not effective" at enforcing federal animal welfare law.

"We want these facilities to adhere to all the federal regulations," Sacks said, noting inspection reports by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service are posted online, along with enforcement actions. "They can't hide, so to speak. Their actions are seen by the public, as are ours."

He said he could not comment on Santa Cruz Biotechnology specifically because the investigation is ongoing.

Santa Cruz Biotechnology, the city's seventh largest employer with 216 workers, reported caring for more than 19,000 animals in 2010. The company - which has other offices in Paso Robles; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Heidelberg, Germany - and sells antibodies to researchers. It was fined $4,600 in 2005 after two years of noncompliance involving sanitation and research procedures, according to the USDA.

Santa Cruz Biotechnology co-owner Brenda Stephenson did not return a call requesting comment.

Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, based in Milford, Ohio, hosted a press conference Monday at the Holiday Inn Express in Santa Cruz. He presented 2010 USDA inspection reports finding Santa Cruz Biotechnology out of compliance, and showed photos of seven sickly goats, which he said he obtained from the agency under the Freedom of Information Act.

Congress raised the fines for violations of the Animal Welfare Act from $2,500 to $10,000 per violation per animal per day in 2008. Budkie said fines of $5,000 to $10,000 are ineffective for a facility with revenue in the millions.

Budkie wrote the USDA on Friday, saying Santa Cruz Biotechnology should be fined $240,000 because of mistreatment of "at least 24 separate animals." Later Monday he said he meant to say 24 infractions.

The 2010 reports detail maltreatment of 12 sick or injured goats, a year after inspectors reported the facility in compliance. In several cases, the citations by veterinary inspector Marcy Rosendale describe inappropriate veterinary care, improper handling and lack of staff training involving the same animal.

The goat awaiting euthanasia had a tumor that could leak into the hay feeder shared with eight others. The facility's attending veterinarian had sought permission to put the animal down, but the request had not been granted for three weeks because the goat "may have valuable antibodies to harvest," according to the inspection report.

Budkie said he had not seen the 2011 inspection report. But he contended a May 2010 audit by the USDA's Office of the Inspector General found the agency's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which conducts inspections, ineffective.

The audit focused on enforcement against dog dealers who ignored minimum care standards. One of the recommendations was photo documentation for violations, similar to those Budkie presented.

"We always welcome audits by OIG," Sacks said. "We look at the conclusions as ways to improve an already good process."

"I'm not going to say every research facility is squeaky clean," he said, noting problems may be "a bad stretch" or "chronic."

He said the agency's process starts with unannounced inspections. If noncompliance is found and documented, there is a follow-up inspection. Further noncompliance can trigger an investigation, which can lead to fines.

"Under the law, the strictest penalty we can enforce is monetary fines," Sacks said, noting the law does not allow the USDA to suspend or revoke a license for an animal research facility.

As for the sickly goat awaiting euthanasia in Santa Cruz, he said, "When we found out about it, it was cited on that report. That's not something that gets overlooked."

Research involving animals has been controversial in Santa Cruz. In August 2008, two UC Santa Cruz researchers were targeted with firebombs, one set off outside a home, one set off in a vehicle. The FBI is investigating the case. Animal rights demonstrators visited the home of another researcher months earlier.


The following is a summary of findings from U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at Santa Cruz Biotechnology:

May 2010: 62 sick animals. Four citations for noncompliance, five goats maltreated. Problems include research procedures, inadequate veterinary care. Medical records for sick animals incomplete. Facility told to correct immediately.

July 2010: 178 sick animals. Five citations for noncompliance and two repeated citations, seven goats maltreated. Problems include inadequate veterinary care. Medical records for sick animals incomplete. Facility told to correct immediately.

February 2011: 76 sick animals. One citation for noncompliance involving blood collection rules, three repeated citations, one goat unable to walk. Medical records for sick animals incomplete. Facility told to correct immediately.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Agriculture

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