U.S. Government Is Urged To Stop Using Illegally Trafficked Animals In Research Following Two Shocking Indictments

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Defense (DOD) to halt their acquisition of research animals from Inotiv; its subsidiaries, Envigo Global Services, Orient BioResource Center, and Worldwide Primates until federal officials can investigate the serious allegations of abuse and wildlife trafficking in which these companies are embroiled in. 

In a letter delivered late last month to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Lawrence Tabak, acting director of the National Institutes of Health, AWI requests HHS and DOD “to re-evaluate their reliance on, and support for, providers of animals for research that have demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to ensure that those animals are treated humanely and are not the product of illegal trafficking operations.”

The call comes after nearly 4,000 beagles were rescued this year from abusive conditions at Envigo’s Cumberland, Virginia, facility, and after federal prosecutors recently charged eight members of an international monkey smuggling ring that allegedly supplied trafficked and endangered monkeys to Envigo, Orient, and Worldwide Primates. 

“Not only is the welfare of the animals and respect for the law at stake,” AWI President Cathy Liss states in the letter, “these issues also undermine the validity and reliability of research undertaken with mistreated and/or questionably sourced animals.”

Federal records indicate that HHS has purchased dogs from Envigo, and that HHS and DOD have purchased significant numbers of primates from Envigo and Worldwide Primates. Since 2019, the departments have spent tens of millions of dollars on long-tailed macaques, according to records.

As previously reported by WAN, on November 16th, federal prosecutors indicted two Cambodian forestry officials and representatives of Vanny Bio Research (Cambodia) Corporation and associated Hong Kong–based companies, alleging on conspiracy to smuggle thousands of endangered long-tailed macaques into the United States by illegally classifying wild-caught monkeys as captive born.

One day later, Inotiv, whose subsidiary Envigo describes itself as the world’s largest and most trusted source of nonhuman primates,” told the Securities and Exchange Commission that Cambodian officials and employees of its principal supplier” of primates had been criminally charged with conspiring to illegally import monkeys. Last week, in a bombshell report, the Journal Science disclosed that Inotiv is one of two companies that received the monkeys referenced in the indictment.

The federal indictment mentions two unindicted co-conspirators that allegedly imported trafficked monkeys to sites in southern Florida and Alice, Texas. As explained in AWI’s letter, a review of government records indicates that the only relevant entities licensed to operate in Alice, Texas, are Inotiv subsidiaries, Envigo, and Orient. Inotiv acquired the locations through its purchase of Envigo in November 2021, and Orient acquired through Envigo, in January 2022. 

According to the indictment, the shipments of laundered monkeys to Alice, Texas, occurred in 2019 and 2020, before Inotiv acquired its subsidiaries. Yet, as AWI’s letter states, “it is difficult to understand how Inotiv’s due diligence in acquiring these businesses could fail to uncover these issues,” which included multiple grand jury subpoenas related to primate imports and one felony conviction for willfully lying during a criminal wildlife trafficking investigation related to primate laundering.

Apart from the animal welfare and wildlife trafficking concerns, using primates of questionable origin in lab experiments is problematic because these animals can spread disease and severely impact study outcomes, research has found.

Over the past year, AWI has documented the horrific conditions of dogs bred for research at Envigo’s Cumberland, Virginia, facility.

In May, a federal court in Virginia took the extraordinary step of granting the Justice Department a temporary restraining order against the facility, after USDA inspectors documented what the court described as “serious and ongoing violations” of the Animal Welfare Act and its regulations, dating back 10 months.  

Among the violations chronicled in the court order: Envigo failed to determine the cause of death of more than 300 puppies over a seven-month period (173 so decomposed it was no longer possible to determine cause of death); 25 puppies died from exposure to the cold; food was deliberately withheld from nursing mothers; dogs were euthanized rather than treated, even for minor injuries; animals were crowded into small, filthy, sweltering cages with food covered in insects, mold and feces; and there was inadequate staffing, including only one full-time veterinarian to attend to thousands of dogs.

A subsequent settlement between Envigo and the Justice Department effectively shut down the Cumberland facility. Unfortunately, Envigo’s USDA license was not suspended or revoked. Envigo’s parent company, Inotiv, is a multinational conglomerate that has at least 60,000 animals at other locations, according to USDA reports.

In public statements, Inotiv has touted the experience of its predecessors and suppliers, and has claimed to undertake effective audits. Yet, despite these assurances, Inotiv has become “deeply entangled with entities and high-level individuals previously convicted or currently charged or under investigation,” according to AWI’s letter. “That, combined with its track record at the Cumberland site, dictates the need for an immediate halt to purchases from or funding to Inotiv” and its various businesses, at least while HHS and DOD determine whether these companies can “consistently provide animals that are well cared for and lawfully sourced.”

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

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

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