Faulty thermostat leads to 10 cat deaths at Las Cruces biolab company

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Please contact Dr. Gibbens and demand that he take immediate action against Southwest Biolabs for the murder of 10 cats.

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Faulty thermostat leads to 10 cat deaths at Las Cruces biolab company

By Brian Fraga, Las-Cruces Sun-News, Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating an incident last fall at Southwest Biolabs in Las Cruces where a thermostat failed and 10 cats died from the higher temperatures.

The company reported the incident to USDA on the same day, and installed a new thermostat and backup monitoring equipment. John Byrd, the president of Southwest Biolabs, said the incident was the first of its kind in the company's 27-year history.

"Something like this has never happened here before. We certainly feel terrible about it," Byrd said.
A USDA spokesman confirmed that the federal agency does not have a record of any prior penalties or enforcement actions against Southwest Biolabs.

The incident occurred Oct. 23, 2011, in a single animal room at Southwest Biolabs, 401 N. 17th St.

The technician on duty and the facility's veterinarian performed "immediate corrective action," according to a USDA inspection report filed on Dec. 15. The report said that an HVAC company inspected the heating unit and replaced the thermostat the next day.

The incident is under review by the USDA's Animal Care Western Regional Office. Byrd said he is appealing some technical details in the agency's inspection report, though he concedes that the cats died.

"It certainly wasn't a case of negligence," Byrd said. "It was an accident."

Michael A. Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based animal-rights organization that focuses on animal testing issues, issued a news release this week calling for the USDA to implement heavy fines on Southwest Biolabs.

"Obviously, this has to bring into question whether they have qualified personnel, and whether they're adequately caring for the animals," Budkie said. However, USDA spokesman Dave Sacks said Southwest Biolabs will not be fined.

"Reason being, this incident was determined to be an accident and the facility fully cooperated, and it took appropriate measures to prevent this type of incident from happening again," Sacks said.

Byrd said his company is audited every two years by the USDA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"We have the equipment checked several times a year to make sure it's working," Byrd said. "We've put in backup thermostats so in case something happens, we have another thermostat to kick off the equipment so this never happens again."

Southwest Biolabs tests animal products, such as medicines for cats and dogs, for their safety and efficacy. The company also tests livestock food to make sure that the animals' meat, milk and eggs are safe for human consumption, Byrd said.

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