Reported primate deaths cause animal rights concerns

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Please contact Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyre to insist that her office investigate and fine Alpha Genesis for negligence which has killed many (at least 18) primates.

Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer
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Reported primate deaths cause animal rights concerns

By Sean Gruber,, Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eighteen monkeys died during the 2011-2012 year at the Alpha Genesis research facility located in Yemassee, South Carolina.

According to a USDA inspection report, some died of hypothermia and heat stress. Others died of "traumatic" injuries, including "amputation" and "evisceration." According to the reports, corrective action was taken to fix the problems.

But if you ask what needs to be done about the deaths and how to prevent them in the future, the various parties involved will give you drastically different answers.

Greg Westergaard, the president of Alpha Genesis, said that the deaths are an unfortunate part of housing primates at the facility and that his staff does whatever it can to protect the animals in its care.

"My staff loves the monkeys here," Westergaard said. "I can promise you that. They love them with all their heart and soul. We do everything we can to care for them."

But Michael Budkie, co-founder of Ohio-based animal rights group Stop Animal Exploitation Now, said the facility doesn't do enough.

"Primates at Alpha Genesis are clearly suffering from major traumatic injuries, heat, cold, and other totally unnecessary deaths," Michael A. Budkie said in a press release. "It is time for the USDA to take meaningful action against this recalcitrant facility which allows so many animals to be injured or die unnecessarily."

Welcome to the intensely observed and regulated but philosophically murky world of experimentation on primates.

Alpha Genesis president said population of apes ‘treated very well.'

Generally, research with primates is very expensive and animal research declines as federal funding drops, according to Shayne Barlow, attending veterinarian for the University  of South Carolina's Animal Resource department.

"It's pretty universal to only use animals in research if there is no alternative," Barlow said. "It's expensive and a much more lengthy study. Most facilities won't use them unless there's no other way."

According to Westergaard, Alpha Genesis is primarily a breeding station, which contains a population of "around 4,000" monkeys. Beyond raising and selling the monkeys, the also facility participates in basic drug and vaccine research "guided toward solving human health problems."

Westergaard said the facility uses computer modeling when possible but that some research required the use of animals to gain useable results. With such a large population of monkeys broken apart into breeding groups, Westergaard said, fights leading to traumatic injuries do occur, but are not common.

"We minimize these fights and attempt to care for the monkeys as best as we can," Westergaard said. "We have a full time staff of five veterinarians focused on caring for the animals. We have hospitals and recovery facilities for extensive treatment. We provide all of their food, fruit, healthcare and sanitation needs here."

Westergaard did not know the specifics as to the heat stress deaths, but said it could have been caused by monkeys overworking their bodies during fights. He also did not know the cause of the hypothermic deaths, saying that each monkey has a smaller section of cage heated by liquid propane.

Westergaard added that the facility is inspected by the USDA yearly and strict regulations have to be followed in order to receive federal funding. The facility has also been accredited by Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, which issues its own strict standards for animal based research.

"It's clearly in our best interest to care for these animals as best as we can," Westergaard said. "And we welcome any oversight or investigation."

Activist: animal research ‘not foolproof,' waste of funds

But Michael Budkie sees the facility in a much different light.

Budkie, who was first alerted to the USDA reports by monitoring the federal agency's website, believes that there is widespread abuse of animals going on at the facility. He is demanding the USDA investigate the entire population of animals and fine Alpha Genesis.

"The USDA only cited some of the deaths in its report," Budkie said. "If you look at the records release by Alpha Genesis, you see that there were 18 deaths and around 100 other injuries. These are monkeys that are missing body parts and parts of their tails. And that's only based on 1,500 records. The injuries could be far more widespread in the entire population. We need an investigation to find out. If we don't do this, facilities will break laws with impunity."

Westergaard said that some of the other traumatic injuries could be explained by repeated injuries to the same monkey and stressed that his entire monkey population received the same health care and treatment.

Budkie and his organization believe that animal testing is inefficient and needlessly harmful.

"Animal testing is not 100% foolproof. We tested [recalled medication] Vioxx on animals before human trails and it was still put out into the market, despite the fact it negatively affected the people that took it. The stress of being in a laboratory environment affects the physiology of the animals, which sabotages the results."

Budkie recommended the funding provided for animal based research be moved toward finding other techniques for experimentation that did not use live animals, such as "microdosing."

"The money would be better spent on clinical and epidemiological research," Budkie said.
Westergaard said that he welcomed people to study new and effective experimentation technique but that animal trials were still a necessary part of drug and vaccine development.

"They have been instrumental in my work. We definitely need to use some experimentation on animals before we go to human trials," Westergaard said. "I want to encourage the development of new experimentation techniques and use them where applicable. Our priorities are research to improve the human condition." 

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