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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
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"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"


  Prepared Statement Regarding Violations of Federal Law by the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research  

The Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research is the facility through which the Southwest National Primate Research Center is funded. This facility houses over 5700 primates including spider monkeys, tamarins, marmosets, chimpanzees, baboons, and macaque monkeys. This facility was connected to approximately $54 million per year in research projects for 2006.
Research facilities like the Southwest Foundation are inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture/Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA/APHIS). USDA/APHIS is charged with the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the only law that protects animals in laboratories.

On 4/3/07 the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research (SWFBR) underwent an inspection by USDA/APHIS. During this inspection the USDA Veterinary Medical Officer, Elizabeth Pannill, cited SWFBR for several different violations. Clearly the most serious of these violations involved an incident which had occurred earlier when a male baboon was designated for euthanasia, necropsy and tissue harvest to be performed on 4/28/06. Dr, Pannill goes on to make one of the most spine chilling statements I have ever read in my 20 plus year career of animal protection work:

“Euthanasia means the humane destruction of an animal accomplished by a method that produces rapid unconsciousness and subsequent death without evidence of pain or distress…euthanasia of one baboon was not accomplished as described above…it was not dead prior to the start of the necropsy procedure.”

This incident resulted in multiple citations of SWFBR by USDA/APHIS. The Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee of SWFBR incurred violations for not considering this incident a serious violation. Additionally, the attending veterinarian of SWFBR was aware of this incident and apparently did not even notify the Animal Care Committee of the full nature of it. Also, the researcher in question did not consider methods that would have been more effective than the administration of the very minimum dose of euthanasia solution to the baboon. The researcher was also cited for significant deviation from the approved protocol.
SWFBR is also cited for other issues involving unqualified personnel, and for concerns surrounding the performance of multiple survival surgeries without USDA approval.

These violations of the Animal Welfare Act are both shocking and severe. Imagine dissecting an animal and removing significant tissue/organs while the animal, in this case a male baboon, was still living. I have seldom seen such a clear example of negligence and incompetence. Additionally, the attitude of the attending veterinarian and the animal care committee at SWFBR can be qualified as nothing short of a cover-up. The vet did not provide significant information to the animal care committee, and the committee members, who were aware of this incident, though several of them may apparently not have been aware of it, did not even mention this situation in any of Animal Care Committee annual reports as is required by USDA regulations.

This incident would possibly be less worrisome if it were isolated. However, this incident at the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research is the latest in a long series of criminal acts by the labs which make up the National Primate Research Center System. Harvard was recently issued an official warning for violations of the AWA including an incident where a primate strangulated on a piece of plastic tubing. The University of California (Davis) was the subject of intense scrutiny when a former caretaker made allegations of abuse, following an incident where a heating malfunction killed seven primates. The University of Wisconsin has been fined for killing marmosets in a cage washer and has had dozens of AWA violations since. The Oregon Health Sciences University was the subject of an undercover investigation by animal activists. The University of Washington (Seattle) has had major AWA violations leading to the refunding of an NIH grant, and citations of a researcher for illegal surgeries. Emory University was recently fined $15,000 by the USDA for federal violations. The Primate Research Center System is connected to over $1 billion in federally funded research annually, and a tremendous amount of criminal activity.

These problems are clearly systemic, and the government agency responsible for regulating these labs, may be the next best thing to powerless in the enforcement of these laws. Despite what you may have heard about strict USDA inspections and regulations, in some instances this system is little more than smoke and mirrors. The USDA does not have the power to close a research facility no matter how bad it is. And while fines can be issued, the financial penalty associated with these fines is so small as to be almost meaningless to entities like SWFBR.

Therefore, we have taken a two-pronged approach to this matter. While we have taken the traditional route of attempting to obtain USDA regulatory action, we have also contacted the National Institutes of Health to seek the repayment of all grants involving the baboon in question, as well as the grants connected to other violations at SWFBR. It is our sincere hope that the NIH will take swift and meaningful action against SWFBR including:

1. Demanding full repayment of the grant money spent during the period of noncompliance;

2. Prohibiting the offender from ever receiving another NIH grant;

3. Revoking Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) accreditation; and

4. Further investigating Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research for further noncompliance with animal welfare laws during the entire funding period of the grant(s) in question.

It is our hope that these actions by the NIH, when combined with appropriate enforcement actions by the USDA/APHIS, may be sufficient to force the SWFBR to end its criminal activity.

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