Chris huh | Wikimedia Commons
A South Texas research lab will have to pay $31,500 in fines for the deaths of 13 primates that overheated in quarantine rooms two years ago.
The United States Department of Agriculture fined Covance Research Products, Inc., which has a lab in Alice, Texas, about 125 miles south of San Antonio, for the deaths of 13 crab-eating macaques. The first fatalities occurred after a thermostat malfunctioned and two primates died, according to a USDA inspection report, which notes that the lab did take corrective measures by installing an over-ride switch. However, exactly one month later, that switch failed and it happened again, according to the inspection report. This time, 11 crab-eating macaques died.
A USDA investigation found that Covance violated the Animal Welfare Act four times from July to October 2014. The first violations weren't related to the deaths. According to the USDA citation, on July 28 of that year, Covance neglected to provide emergency veterinary care for five primates that were weak and in distress after being transported from an airport to the Covance facility. "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 citation states.
On September 5, 2014, the first of the crab-eating macaques died at the Covance lab after a corroded thermostat in the quarantine building room rose to at least 94 degrees, killing two primates. One month later, a wiring error caused by a contractor who supposedly fixed the thermostat caused heat in the room to again rise to at least 94 degrees. "Covance failed to protect the health and well-being of nonhuman primates by exposing them to high temperatures," the citation states.
Shari Morey, communications director at Covance, said the 13 deaths were unfortunate, isolated incidents that were immediately addressed with strong corrective measures. "Covance takes very seriously our ethical and regulatory responsibilities to treat research animals with the greatest care and respect," Morey said in a statement. "In addition to being the right thing to do, the proper care of research animals is fundamental to sound scientific research and the ability to develop safe and effective new medicines that save lives."
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lab oversight specialist Dr. Alka Chandna, however, alleged that Covance is a chronic, brazen violator of federal animal welfare laws. Chandna also says the fine should have been much larger. "This stipulation is much higher than previous fines against Covance, and we are very grateful for that," Chandna said in a statement. "But they could and should be substantially higher if they are going to deter violations."
In 2004 and 2005, a PETA undercover investigation at a Covance lab in Virginia resulted in a USDA citation that carried a $8,720 fine after Covance was cited for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including abusive handling of primates, failure to provide veterinary care to sick animals and for not providing pain relief to animals subjected to painful procedures, Chandna said, adding that "It still hasn't cleaned up its act and needs to get out of this ugly, cruel business and invest instead in cutting-edge, non-animal testing methods."