Primates Continue To Suffer While Research Labs Plan To Gain $30 Million In Taxpayer Dollars To Renovate & Expand

Shockingly, National Primate Research Centers (NPRCs) that experiment on primates stand to gain an additional $30 million in taxpayer funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for fiscal year 2024, despite all seven receiving multiple citations deemed “critical” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors for primate injuries and deaths over the last decade, according to a new analysis by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

The NIH’s proposed spending plan seeks $30 million in funding to “expand, remodel, renovate, or alter existing research facilities or construct new research facilities for nonhuman primate resource infrastructure.” However, AWI analyzed USDA inspection reports that document multiple critical noncompliances with the federal Animal Welfare Act causing primate injuries and deaths related to staff carelessness or inadequate training and supervision — issues that would not be resolved through building renovations or expansions.

Citations are issued for “critical” compliance issues when they involve “a serious or severe adverse effect on the health and well-being of an animal,” but they do not automatically trigger fines under the law.

In a November 7th letter to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committees, AWI urged Congress to redirect the funds to instead further develop modern research technologies that do not rely on animals, citing the NPRCs’ “long and ongoing history of noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act.”

“These research facilities complain about a monkey shortage, yet they can’t even properly care for the primates they already have,” said Eric Kleiman, a researcher for AWI’s Animals in Laboratories Program. “Why should taxpayers fund expansions at facilities with poor animal welfare records?”

Kleiman also noted that a U.S. government official stated at a scientific committee meeting in 2022 that monkeys in Asia are being purchased as “futures” before they are even born. “Animals should not be treated as commodities,” Kleiman said.

The NPRC system was established by the federal government in the early 1960s, and the centers received $88 million in taxpayer money from the NIH last year largely to maintain their facilities. NPRCs are located at Emory University; Oregon Health & Science University; Texas Biomedical Research Institute; Tulane University; the University of California, Davis; the University of Washington; and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They are part of the broader primate research landscape that includes private companies, such as Labcorp, Charles River Laboratories, and Inotiv (parent company of Envigo).

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice reached a settlement with an Envigo breeding facility in Virginia to surrender approximately 4,000 beagles living in abusive conditions, after the USDA had failed to confiscate the animals — despite dozens of citations. Four days after the settlement, the USDA renewed Envigo’s breeding license.

The USDA has a longstanding pattern of issuing citations with no real repercussions. The lack of consequences should come as no surprise, since animal welfare enforcement represents less than one-tenth of 1% of the $475 billion available to the department last year.

In fact, USDA inspectors have documented a number of critical noncompliances for which no fines were issued, including monkeys dying because they were deprived of water or adequate veterinary care, left overnight outside of their enclosure, and strangled by chains holding improperly installed enrichment devices.

In multiple situations involving primate deaths, the USDA took no enforcement action; in several cases, the department waited too long and allowed the five-year statute of limitations for enforcement actions to expire.

In the last 15 months, all seven institutions have been cited by the USDA for primate-related critical noncompliances with the AWA, according to AWI’s analysis. Moreover, over the last decade, all have received multiple critical citations, yet it appears that only four institutions received fines during that time.

More than 14,000 entities are currently regulated under the AWA, including breeders, exhibitors, dealers, and research facilities, and only 50 penalties have been levied by the USDA since December 2019. The amounts of these fines are often so paltry that labs consider them merely “a cost of doing business,” according to multiple reports from the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General. In fact, within the realm of the lucrative primate trade, most fines do not even come close to the cost of acquiring a single monkey for biomedical research (estimated at $55,000).

“As we saw with the USDA’s botched handling of the Envigo case, where 4,000 beagles bred for research had to be rescued from deplorable conditions, the department coddles the medical research industry instead of protecting animals — their unwilling subjects — from harm,” Kleiman said.

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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