Big Biotech Has Big Animal Care Problems: A Multitude of Citations by USDA

Higher ground: These goats at a research facility in the eastern United States receive proper care and conscientious oversight. Photo by Michelle Cunneen.Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc. (SCBT), one of the world’s largest suppliers of antibodies derived from the blood of animals (goats and rabbits), has been cited by USDA veterinary inspectors for apparent egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act, dating back to at least July 2007. There have been 78 separate citations over the past five years, many of which appear to have resulted in needless animal suffering.

USDA inspectors report goats who were lame, including those suffering from broken legs; some had respiratory conditions and nasal discharge; many were anemic; a number were extremely thin, with “protruding hips, ribs and spinal processes”; others had skin conditions, including large areas of hair loss. Despite the terrible state of some of the goats, SCBT persisted in drawing their blood. Quoting from the inspection reports: “Continuing to use these animals for antibody production with their history of medical conditions caused them unnecessary discomfort, distress, and pain…. Animals with chronic and significant medical conditions are not suitable subjects for antibody production.” [May 5, 2010] “Inadequate numbers of staff at this facility, including veterinarians, have resulted in animals receiving inadequate medical care and thus experiencing unnecessary pain and distress.” [May 2, 2012].

Among other instances found in the reports: An animal with multiple tumors slated for euthanasia was left alive for at least three weeks [May 5, 2010]. A goat was found lying in an empty food bunker—SCBT staff had put food out of reach of the goat, who could not stand. When offered food by the inspector, the animal ate [July 13, 2010]. A goat with a painful broken leg and a lost cast went untreated for at least three days because the veterinarian didn’t have time to provide care [April 19, 2012].

The USDA filed a complaint against the company for having “willfully violated the Animal Welfare Act” in July of 2012, yet citations continued. The USDA’s inspection of October 31, 2012, in fact, reported that SCBT had willfully hidden from the USDA the existence of a site housing 841 goats. “Several staff members as well as management at this facility failed to inform APHIS officials of the location of a site where regulated animals were housed and regulated activities (blood collection for antibody production) were taking place. The existence of the site was denied even when directly asked during APHIS inspections.” Apparently the site had gone unreported to the USDA for at least two-and-a-half years and, according to an inspector, “veterinary staff does not visit this herd.”

You Can Make a Difference
Please send letters to two government officials addressing SCBT’s apparent appalling violations of the Animal Welfare Act and serious systemic failure to provide animals with much-needed veterinary care. The first letter should go to the Secretary of Agriculture, respectfully requesting that the USDA seek revocation of SCBT’s license as a dealer and the largest fine possible. The second letter, to the NIH Director, should encourage the agency to close a loophole that exempts facilities that sell “off the shelf” antibodies (as does SCBT) from filing a Public Health Service Animal Welfare Assurance. To view AWI’s letters to these two officials, as well as the full inspection reports and an article on the issue from the journal Nature, please visit: www.awionline.org/SCBT.

The Honorable Tom Vilsack Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250
agsec@usda.gov

Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
Director
National Institutes of Health
Building 1, Room 126, 1 Center Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892
francis.collins@nih.gov