Posted on behalf of Nadia Drake
Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc., a major supplier of antibodies and other materials used by molecular biology labs worldwide, is under investigation by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for potential violations of the Animal Welfare Act, authorities confirm.
A February inspection at a company production facility yielded several instances of ‘noncompliance’ with the Act, all relating to the treatment of goats whose immune systems are harnessed to produce laboratory reagents. The noncompliances, detailed in an inspection report, involve “veterinary care, personnel qualifications, and primary enclosures," said David Sacks, a spokesman for the USDA in Washington, DC.
A senior spokesperson for Santa Cruz Biotechnology did not respond to telephone requests for comment.
The matter began drawing public attention on Monday after Michael Budkie, executive director of the advocacy group Stop Animal Exploitation Now! held a news conference in Santa Cruz, California, where the company is based. Budkie pressed the USDA to take strong action against the company. He also showed photos from earlier inspections depicting animals that had not received proper care. In once case, last summer, a goat was found with a massive tumour on its neck (pictured). The company was cited as far back as 2005 for failing to meet standards for animal care.
“We look at all the inspection reports as they become available online,” Budkie says. “And Santa Cruz Biotechnology has a history of serious animal welfare violations.”
Sacks says that companies who run afoul of the animal law face severe fines – a maximum of $10,000 per violation.
USDA inspections are unannounced and conducted by veterinarians working with the agency. Generally, companies with clean records are inspected once each year, Sacks says. Repeated noncompliance triggers investigations. “We send agency investigators to a facility if it is having serious problems,” he adds. “For the most part, the vast majority of the facilities we register are in compliance.”
During the company’s most recent inspection, on 8 February, two donkeys, 876 goats, and 6,000 rabbits were listed in its inventory. The inspection report cites several noncompliance items relating to the care of goats in the facility, including a failure to follow acceptable protocols for blood collection, a dirty bandage, incomplete health records, and the case of goat #14983, found “wedged in a metal feeder, unable to move its head out of the rungs of the feeder,” writes veterinarian Marcy Rosendale.
In 2005, Santa Cruz Biotechnology paid $4,600 in fines resulting from violations in areas of animal sanitation, veterinary care, and personnel training. The settlement report contains 23 citations spanning a 2 year period and includes problems such as flies around the enclosures, and unacceptable forms of euthanasia, as well as using more than 1,000 rabbits when a protocol authorized the use of 80.
Inspections in 2009 turned up no instances of noncompliance, but a USDA inspection on 5 May 2010 found instances of lame animals, incomplete health records, and the case of goat #7575, who had a “large, approximately baseball sized tumour” protruding from its neck, writes Rosendale. The tumour was draining into a shared feeder, “exposing the hay and other animals to the effusion.” Though the animal had been recommended for euthanasia, permission to perform the procedure had been delayed because “valuable antibodies” might still be harvested.
And on 13 July 2010, Rosendale reported more concerns, such as the case of goat #12579, who had a “large open wound to the right hind leg. According to the medical report, the goat had been bitten by a coyote,” writes Rosendale. “The animal never received any treatment for pain, even prior to wound treatment,” the report continued.
Budkie says the fines imposed by the USDA are “so small they’re virtually meaningless,” and that some companies lump the fines into the cost of doing business.
But Sacks says the USDA is doing a good job at enforcing the existing regulations, and that its goal is to help every facility be in complete compliance, every day. “As federal regulators, we don’t have an ideological agenda in terms of animal research,” he says. “All we focus on is the welfare of those animals.”
The Animal Welfare Act, passed in 1966, includes regulations for the treatment of warm-blooded animals involved in research – but excludes rats from the genus Rattus, and mice from the genus Mus.