Complaint filed over deaths of Everett lab’s monkeys

EVERETT — Animal-rights activists have filed a complaint against a research lab here after more than two dozen monkey deaths last year.

Ohio-based Stop Animal Exploitation Now said in its complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that SNBL USA’s “fatal incompetence” deserves severe punishment. In October 2013, 25 monkeys died during or shortly after a trip to the Everett biomedical research facility.

SNBL, the West Coast’s largest monkey lab, reported the deaths in an Oct. 21, 2013, letter to the National Institutes of Health.

The company had shipped 840 cynomolgus monkeys from a breeding farm in Cambodia to Houston. The letter said company staff members had noted the animals were “very thirsty and thin” upon arriving in Texas. They loaded 480 of the monkeys into trucks bound for Everett, a three-day trip. The remaining animals went to another SNBL facility in Alice, Texas.

During the trip to Everett, a staff member noted that the monkeys were weak. Five died on the way. Another 20 died or were euthanized within a week of arriving at SNBL’s site behind tall trees and security fencing along Seaway Boulevard.

The company tests pharmaceutical drugs on monkeys and also breeds the primates for sale to other researchers. The Everett facility employs about 260 people and is home to about 1,200 monkeys.

“If SNBL can’t ensure the animals arrive alive, why should we believe these facilities are capable of science?” Michael Budkie of Stop Animal Exploitation Now said in an interview. “These (deaths) demonstrate a clear pattern of negligence on the part of SNBL.”

After the first monkey died, Budkie said, SNBL should have taken measures to ensure the rest of the animals could safely continue the journey.

The company’s chief compliance officer, Thomas Beck, said he didn’t anticipate the deaths because the monkeys were transported according to industry standards. Since the incident, the company has changed procedures for monkey transport, Beck said.

“For us, if even one animal dies in transit, that’s a tragedy,” he said. “We wanted to make sure that never happened again.”

SNBL hasn’t determined why the monkeys died, but Beck suspects they were in poor condition before they left Cambodia. The company now sends a veterinarian before the monkeys leave to ensure they are fit to make the trip.

The company has added chilled gel packs and water to the shipping crates to avoid dehydration among the primates en route. A SNBL staffer travels with the animals.

“We want these animals to be comfortable and well cared for,” Beck said.

The monkeys now fly to Seattle instead of Houston to reduce the ground transportation time. Beck said the last leg of the trip seemed to cause the most problems. The company’s new policy requires that animals be shipped no more than 50 miles by truck.

Budkie wonders why it took 25 monkey deaths for those procedures to be put in place. He hopes the government fines SNBL.

Budkie said the deaths demonstrate the way the laboratory-testing industry views animals.

“They’re inventory,” he said. “Their goal is to make money.”

SNBL’s monkeys are bred for research. They live and die in captivity. Each monkey is worth about $3,500, the company has said.

“The people who work here have love and compassion for these animals,” Beck said.

SNBL tests pharmaceutical drugs on monkeys to improve human medicine, Beck said. He said he has seen the benefits of the company’s research first hand.When his brother-in-law was diagnosed with leukemia, he was given a drug SNBL had tested.

“He had a positive result from that treatment and he is doing fine,” Beck said. “It gives you some consolation that what we’re doing is making a difference.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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