RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Federal officials have charged a company that runs a Virginia facility…
Based on routine inspections conducted in July, US Department of Agriculture officials cited Envigo – an Indianapolis-based company that breeds dogs and sells them as research animals to the pharmaceutical and biotech industries – for mistreatment of beagles and poor conditions at the facility in Cumberland, Va., about 50 miles west of Richmond.
Officials said facility records showed that over a seven-month period, more than 300 puppies died of “unknown causes”. There were incomplete death records.
According to inspection reports posted online Nov. 15, authorities found more than 500 puppies and dogs kept inside a building and experiencing “discomfort, lethargy or stress” because the temperature was over 85 degrees for at least five hours and there was no air. conditioning.
Officials from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have also raised concerns about infrequent cleaning in areas where dogs nursing puppies could face possible illnesses. Flies, beetles and ants were found on automatic feeders in some of the kennels. According to inspection reports, at least a dozen dogs had problems including eye problems, “serious dental disease” and inflamed paws.
A spokesperson for Envigo said the company was working with the USDA to correct the issues it had highlighted and added, “The highest standard of animal welfare is a core value of our business.”
Envigo said the use of animals for research is “essential to developing drugs, medical devices and life-saving biologicals, such as vaccines.” His animals, the company said, have “a vital role in the development of advanced pacemakers for cardiac patients” and in “critical research in Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.”
Institutions and universities often spend thousands of dollars doing medical research on animals. Beagles are bred for use in research because they are small and docile, according to animal welfare experts.
USDA inspectors found other issues that violated animal welfare law at Envigo’s facilities in Virginia:
- Nearly 50 dogs had battle wounds.
- The food was retained for 42 hours to about a dozen female dogs nursing 78 pups. Envigo officials said it was the “standard operating procedure for weaning which they say reduces the risk of mastitis” – inflammation of the mammary glands.
PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – had launched its own roughly seven-month-long undercover investigation into the Envigo facility in Virginia and said its investigator found workers without veterinary degrees sticking needles into puppies head to drain bruises without any pain relief. for the animal, and cases in which the puppies “fell through the holes in the cages and ended up in the sewers, soaked in water, excrement and other waste”.
Daphna Nachminovitch, senior vice president of cruelty investigations at PETA, said her group’s work has shown that “they never become dogs. They are meant to exist in cages.
Envigo’s spokesperson said in a statement that the company believes PETA’s claims are “misleading and lacking in significant context.”
The USDA did not impose any fines or penalties after the July inspections.
Envigo and its predecessor, Covance, had more than a dozen contracts potentially worth around $1.2 million with the National Institutes of Health to sell the agency dogs that would have been used in medical research. , according to PETA.
An NIH spokeswoman said the agency has purchased dogs from Envigo’s Cumberland facility “in the past, but no future purchases are planned.”
- Steve Orbanek, a spokesman for Temple University in Philadelphia, said in an email that he was “committed to the care and humane treatment of research animals,” but would not go into details. specific contracts or agreements.
- Montez Seabrook, a spokesperson for the Medical University of South Carolina, said that while the university was aware of concerns about animal conditions at Envigo’s facilities in Virginia, MUSC had “stopped using of these animals in research on our campus” in 2017.
- At Virginia Tech, spokesman Mark Owczarski said the institution had purchased dogs from Envigo’s facility in Virginia for its veterinary college in the past, but ended that in 2020. This fall, he said, Envigo donated dead animals to the school’s veterinary college, but officials said they “did not seek or solicit this donation, and the college does not also had no intention of buying cadavers from them, but accepted them to help train future vets.”
- Mick Kulikowski, NC State spokesman, said the university had purchased six dogs from Envigo over the past two years for research and “all were healthy.” After research, he said, the dogs were adopted.