ANIMALS

Pharma Business Starved Baby Monkeys to Death, Feds Claim

The USDA is suing an animal-testing firm for killing 38 primates since 2010, dying from botched liver biopsies, dirty cages, and more.

11.01.16 6:17 PM ET

Five macaque monkeys were already dead by the time the shipping container from Cambodia arrived in Houston. The rest of the 840 monkeys were weak and thin.

But SNBL USA, the pharmaceutical company that had imported the shipment of live monkeys in October 2013 didn’t administer any veterinary care to the sickly primates, a new complaint from the US Department of Agriculture claims. Instead, SNBL packed the monkeys onto trucks, shipping most over 2,000 miles to Washington state. Twenty more monkeys allegedly died of hypoglycemia and dehydration-induced organ failure on the way, or were euthanized shortly upon arrival. And the survivors were destined for one of the country’s most notorious animal testing facilities.

SNBL performs lab tests on dogs, rats, and rodents, drawing years of ire from animal rights activists. But it’s SNBL’s monkey testing that’s finally captured the attention of the USDA. In a nine-page complaint unsealed this week, the feds accused SNBL of years of animal rights violations at its Everett, Washington testing plant. From 2010 to 2016, 38 monkeys were found dead of suspicious circumstances on the plant, the USDA claims. The monkeys, many of them infants, allegedly died of neglect, dehydration, decrepit living conditions, and in the case of six monkeys, after botched liver biopsies by undertrained workers.

Animal rights groups said they’ve been sounding the alarm on SNBL for years. In 2008, an employee was allegedly fired after reporting that a monkey was reportedly boiled alive after being placed in a rack washer. In a 2011 video leaked to PETA, an SNBL employee filmed monkeys cowering in cramped cages at the testing facility. Some of the macaque monkeys were  bleeding from what the whistleblower described as “routine” needle work. Others were tethered to their cages by metal tubing, which the whistleblower said contained intravenous drugs.

“The monkeys fight continuously for hours to loosen the ropes … it is just too much for them,” the anonymous employee said. “Eventually, many of the monkeys stop fighting and reacting … it is like the life is gone from them.”

Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president at PETA says the USDA complaint comes as no surprise.

“We’ve had whistleblower reports from there going back at least 10 years,” she told The Daily Beast. “What we see in this report is very much in line with what we’ve heard. There is a sloppiness and apparent neglect that is leading directly to animal death.”

Neither SNBL nor a former employee from the defunct Stone Oaks Farms responded to multiple requests for comment. But SNBL has previously accused the media of exaggerating claims of animal abuse.

“We all know talking to a reporter, newspaper, or television is very risky,” the company’s veterinary medicine program director blogged in 2014. “Depending on the reporters’ biases or intended story slant, even the best told story intended to enlighten the public on the value of biomedical research can quickly turn into a story describing the horrors animals experience in the research environment.”

For SNBL, the “value of biomedical research” is roughly $5 million a year, which it earns from selling animals and housing them onsite for testing, the USDA reports.

The company’s alleged sloppiness takes the form of basic veterinary neglect. When the 2013 shipment of 840 allegedly starving monkeys arrived in Texas, they were transferred onto overland trucks without veterinary care, the USDA claims.

And SNBL’s shipping company had its own dark history of animal neglect. The now-defunct Stone Oak Farms and Transport received an official USDA warning after the 2011 death of a chimpanzee, which died while Stone Oaks Farms was shipping it to a Louisiana research facility.

“You accepted nonhuman primates for transport in commerce without receiving a certification that the nonhuman primates were offered food and water during the 4 hours before you accepted them for transport,” a January 2013 USDA warning read, after the agency’s investigation into the chimpanzee’s death.

But by October, Stone Oaks was back to shipping monkeys, again without adequate food, water, or veterinary care, the USDA claims. But this time, 25 monkeys died between SNBL’s Cambodia-based supplier and the company’s U.S. laboratories.

And once at SNBL’s Washington lab, the monkeys faced decrepit conditions and under trained employees, the USDA alleges. Despite repeated warnings, SNBL allegedly allowed its monkey cages to fall into disrepair. Mold grew on air vents, while an unidentified “dark material” collected in pools of standing water. Crumbling fencing trapped multiple monkeys between the cages, where they allegedly died of hypothermia or strangulation.

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One 6-week-old monkey reportedly become trapped halfway through a fence while trying to escape confinement. Monkeys on the other side attempted to pull the baby free, but only succeeded in further entangling him. He died of trauma.

Six monkeys allegedly died from botched medical tests, after inadequately trained staffers attempted to perform liver biopsies on the primates.

“I don’t know who is running that place because they don’t seem to have anybody knowledgeable in charge of training,” Guillermo said. “When you see six monkeys die because the staff is not trained to do liver biopsies at an animal laboratory, that is a stunning indictment of oversight at that facility.”

Guillermo said a USDA complaint of this scale is rare, and suggests serious issues inside the plant.

“Those are very serious, and it’s unusual for the USDA to undertake those unless they feel that they’ve seen something very troubling,” she said.