The US Department of Agriculture hearing against Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc. (SCBT), scheduled for early April, has been pushed back to August 15—the fourth time over the past two years that the hearing on SCBT’s alleged egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act has been delayed. The latest postponement, requested by SCBT and opposed by the USDA, was granted by Administrative Law Judge Janice Bullard, who stated in her order “that the hearing should not be postponed indefinitely [emphasis added].” Judge Bullard’s statement suggests the facility may have attempted to avoid setting a new hearing date altogether; Perhaps SCBT is hoping that the older the charges become, the less impact they will have.
Despite this latest delay, word continues to spread throughout the research community of SCBT’s reprehensible record. Individual researchers have vowed not to use SCBT antibodies, and prestigious universities have recognized that a supplier’s animal welfare record must be a primary consideration.
McGill University, the second-biggest user of antibodies in Canada according to the website CiteAb, recently issued a directive instructing its researchers that, with respect to using SCBT, “every effort must be made to redirect the order to an alternative source of supply, where possible.” The decision was based on SCBT’s alleged failure to meet Animal Welfare Act requirements and “other negative findings related to Santa Cruz Biotechnology’s practices,” which a university representative said included the disappearance of thousands of goats and rabbits (as reported inNature on February 19).
McGill has now included an entire section on animal welfare as it creates a Supplier Code of Conduct, which, when implemented, will require all life science providers to supply proof of animal welfare compliance. Moreover, McGill is working to make other Canadian institutions aware of this situation.
The Nature article—which at one time ranked as the secondmost- accessed item on the journal’s website—continues to reverberate in the media, as well. Recently, the German publicationLab Times published an in-depth article, “The Dark Side of Research Antibodies,” which quoted a German researcher who first heard about the SCBT case when regularly used antibodies suddenly became unavailable. The article also noted the “sadly ironic” fact that the goat who died right in front of USDA veterinary inspectors had a copper deficiency—one that could have been addressed by the copper supplement SCBT sells through its own Santa Cruz Animal Health pharmaceutical website.
Meanwhile, Northwestern University’s Committee on Animal Resources has written that “… amongst the immunological community, Santa Cruz antibodies have been dismissed as worthless” while noting that the Northwestern Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee has been “assisting [antibody users] in finding alternative sources with no such history of welfare violations.” Northwestern recently removed SCBT from its Preferred Vendor list because of the company’s failure to sufficiently “address concerns regarding their USDA animal care compliance” and named 10 other suppliers from which its researchers could purchase off-the-shelf antibodies.
Update: Victory! As this issue was going to print, AWI learned that the USDA and SCBT reached a settlement, whereby SCBT agreed to pay a monumental $3.5 million fine and to forfeit its research registration by May 31, 2016. Further, its dealer license will be revoked, effective December 31, 2016. While this allows the company to sell antibodies through the remainder of the year, it can only sell such products derived from live animals on or before August 21, 2015. Regardless, AWI strongly encourages researchers to follow the lead of such institutions as McGill and Northwestern, and seek other sources from which to purchase antibodies.