Complaint Filed Against Research Facility Involved in Dozens of Monkey Deaths

On the heels of the historic settlement between the US Department of Agriculture and Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SCBT), another huge commercial operation licensed as an animal dealer and registered as a research facility is under scrutiny, accused of numerous serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The company in the crosshairs this time is SNBL USA, a subsidiary of Japan-based Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories. On September 26, 2016, the USDA filed a formal complaint against SNBL, alleging dozens of AWA violations over the course of five years, including actions that led to the deaths of 38 nonhuman primates.

SNBL, which calls itself “the experts in primate research,” operates two facilities in the United States—in Everett, Washington, and Alice, Texas. It is a contract research organization that also imports, breeds, and sells nonhuman primates. The company has been on the USDA’s enforcement radar since at least 2002, with three stipulated penalty fines issued in 2006 ($31,852), 2008 ($12,937), and 2009 ($1,406). The USDA did not impose any fine, however, after a monkey was boiled alive in a cage washer at SNBL in 2007.

The company boasts that its Scientific Resource Center in Texas “provides clients with the highest quality nonhuman primates (NHP) worldwide.” According to the USDA complaint, during 2014 and 2015, SNBL sold a total of 2,839 animals and grossed nearly $10 million. The company claims to “have over 40,000 NHPs in stock worldwide.”

The complaint alleges that SNBL has “willfully violated” the AWA. It goes on to state that “despite having been advised on multiple occasions by APHIS of noncompliance with the Regulations and the standards promulgated under the Act,” SNBL has “continued to fail to meet the minimum requirements” and that “the gravity of the violations alleged in this complaint is great.” Among the allegations:

Twenty-five monkeys (out of a total of 840) shipped from Cambodia to Houston sustained “multiple organ failure caused by dehydration and hypoglycemia.” Though SNBL veterinarians “observed that the animals were thirsty and some appeared weak [and] thin” upon arrival in Houston, they provided absolutely no veterinary care. Nor did a single SNBL veterinarian or veterinary staff member accompany 480 of these weakened monkeys who were trucked to SNBL’s Everett, Washington, facility—a distance of 2,500 miles. According to the complaint, “Five macaques died before arrival [in Everett], 17 died or were euthanized shortly after arrival, on October 4, 2013, and three more macaques died over the next five days.”

A six-week-old monkey became trapped while trying to escape through a fence. Monkeys on the other side tried unsuccessfully to pull him through. This infant “was found severely depressed, hypothermic, barely breathing, and dehydrated, and it subsequently died that afternoon from a combination of trauma and hypothermia.”

Six monkeys died from internal bleeding—four in March 2016 alone—when improperly trained and unqualified personnel conducted ultrasound-guided liver biopsies on them.

Four monkeys suffered from hyperthermia, seizures, and apparent trauma and ultimately died after being pursued by net-wielding workers. This stress-inducing method was part of SNBL’s procedure for capturing monkeys for sedation.

A monkey “reached through the wires on its fencing, pulled the cable for the guillotine door into its enclosure, became entangled in the cable, and died by strangulation.” Just one month later, another monkey “reached through the wires and mesh on its fencing, pulled a cable for the guillotine door into its enclosure, became entangled in the cable and was found dead, with the cable wrapped around its neck.”

At least two monkeys died after sustaining severe injuries during fights with incompatible cagemates. A July 2011 inspection not included in the complaint noted that 78 percent of SNBL’s monkeys in Everett were singly housed; none of these even had the ability to touch another primate. These citations indicate severe, unacceptable failures by SNBL to address the social needs of nonhuman primates, promote their psychological well-being, and ensure compatibility of cagemates—all requirements of the AWA.

A monkey who was on an infusion study suffocated after SNBL staff failed to notice that the animal’s head was stuck in a cage. According to the December 10, 2015, inspection report, “the team carrying out the procedure that day was short-handed due to a scheduling problem.”

In December 2015, the USDA noted that four separate protocols did not adequately justify the number of animals being used. In May 2016, SNBL still had not provided the rationale for animal numbers for two of these studies—one of which was a pilot screening study to “evaluate the response at three points on an estimated lethality profile” to inform doses for a larger study. The pilot was scheduled to use 48 animals.

For comparison: Covance Laboratories is another contract research organization and animal importer, breeder, and dealer (monkeys, dogs, and rabbits). The company, which also operates a facility in Alice, Texas, was taken over in 2015 by Laboratory Corporation of America in an almost $6 billion deal. In June 2016, by the terms of a stipulated penalty, the USDA fined Covance a mere $31,500 for the overheating deaths of 13 monkeys on two separate occasions just a month apart. In a scenario similar to the one resulting in a citation in the complaint filed against SNBL, the USDA stipulation stated that Covance “directed transporters to travel without stopping to the Covance facility, despite being aware that the airline had not provided water as required, that the transport trailers’ air conditioning units were malfunctioning and that at least 5 nonhuman primates were weak and in distress.”

The enforcement action against SNBL (which, unlike Covance, was not a stipulated penalty but instead a formal complaint), however, is perhaps the first true test of whether or not the precedent-setting SCBT license revocation and $3.5 million fine is the dawn of a new day of enforcement, deterrence, and significantly better protection for animals—or an anomaly in the USDA’s long history, documented by decades of inspector general reports, that chronicle feckless enforcement efforts.

Indeed, the similarities between SCBT and SNBL are striking. They were both serially cited for years by the USDA for egregious violations of the AWA. Both paid stipulated penalties connected to citations going back to 2002. Both had been fined previously, before the USDA filed formal complaints. Both have been simultaneously registered as research facilities and licensed as dealers.

As AWI did with SCBT, we will press hard for an appropriate penalty against SNBL, commensurate with the egregious nature of the allegations. The USDA must reinforce the message it sent in the earlier case: that ongoing flagrant violations of the law resulting in horrific animal pain, suffering, and deaths will not be tolerated.

UPDATE: As this issue was going to print, AWI learned that the USDA reached a settlement with SNBL, the terms of which we do not know at this time. We will provide details in the next issue of the Quarterly. Please see our information on SNBL USA page.