UPDATE (December 8, 2016): Despite Serious Allegations, SNBL USA Dodges Significant Penalty from USDA
On December 2, 2016, the USDA reached a weak settlement agreement with SNBL USA.
The settlement orders SNBL to cease and desist from violating the AWA and to pay a $185,000 fine. Under the agreement, the facility’s license will also be suspended for 30 days beginning December 22 and restored after it successfully demonstrates that it is in compliance with the AWA. Compliance will be determined following scheduled USDA inspections; such inspections are traditionally unannounced to prevent facilities from covering up possible violations.
The outcome of the SNBL case pales in comparison to the settlement agreement reached in May 2016 of the multiple complaints against Santa Cruz Biotechnology, Inc. (SCBT)—another huge commercial operation licensed as a dealer and registered as a research facility that was accused of numerous serious AWA violations dating back to 2002. The unprecedented settlement agreement in the SCBT case resulted in the cancellation of the facility’s research registration, revocation of its dealer license, and payment of a historic $3.5 million civil penalty.
Motion to Seal
As reported in the Houston Press, prior to the settlement agreement, the USDA—in concert with SNBL—filed a “motion to seal” to prevent vital facts from this case being made available to the general public. This motion—ultimately granted—was filed weeks after AWI obtained the original, unredacted USDA complaint against the company via a Freedom of Information Act request.
It was only after the incriminating allegations detailed in the complaint resulted in widespread media coverage that the USDA filed the motion. As a result, a redacted complaint has now replaced the original document on the hearing docket, with crucial information blacked from the public eye. The motion to seal indicated a buckling by the USDA to the wishes of the company to keep the case details quiet.
USDA Files Complaint Against Research Facility Involved in Dozens of Monkey Deaths
On the heels of the historic settlement between the US Department of Agriculture and Santa Cruz Biotechnology (SCBT), another huge commercial operation licensed as a dealer and registered as a research facility is under scrutiny, accused of numerous serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The company in the crosshairs this time is SNBL USA, a subsidiary of Japan-based Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories. On September 26, the USDA filed a formal complaint against SNBL, alleging dozens of AWA violations over the course of five years, including actions that led to the deaths of 38 nonhuman primates. (AWI, which for years has fought for access to AWA legal pleadings and used them to inform the media and the public about AWA enforcement, obtained the complaint on October 25 through a Freedom of Information Act request.)
SNBL, which calls itself "the experts in primate research," operates two facilities in the United States—in Everett, Washington, and Alice, Texas. It is a contract research organization that also imports, breeds, and sells nonhuman primates. The company has been on the USDA's enforcement radar since at least 2002, with stipulated penalty fines issued in 2006 ($31,852), 2008 ($12,937), and 2009 ($1,406). The USDA did not issue any fine, however, after a monkey was boiled alive in a cage washer at SNBL in 2007.
The company boasts that its Scientific Resource Center in Alice "provides clients with the highest quality nonhuman primates (NHP) worldwide." According to the USDA complaint, during 2014 and 2015, SNBL sold a total of 2,839 animals and grossed nearly $10 million. USDA Annual Reports during those years show that SNBL used almost 5,000 nonhuman primates in teaching, research, experiments, or tests, while breeding, conditioning, or holding over 10,000 for such use. The company claims to have "over 40,000 NHPs in stock worldwide."
Though the USDA has largely cited SCBT for violations involving goats, and SNBL for nonhuman primates, the similarities between the two companies are nevertheless striking. Both have been serially cited for years by the USDA for egregious violations of the AWA. Both have paid stipulated penalties connected to citations dating back to 2002. Both have been fined previously before the USDA filed formal complaints. Both have simultaneously been registered as research facilities and licensed as dealers.
As AWI did with SCBT, we will press hard for an appropriate penalty against SNBL, commensurate with the egregious nature of the allegations. Just as in the case of SCBT, AWI believes that SNBL's record as documented by the USDA warrants license revocation and a huge fine. The USDA must reinforce the message it sent in the SCBT case: that years of serial citations for AWA violations involving needless animal deaths and immense pain and suffering cannot and will not be tolerated.
USDA Enforcement Action
USDA Inspection Reports
SNBL USA operates as both a USDA registered research facility and a USDA licensed dealer. Inspections on each of the dates below include the reports for SNBL USA as both a dealer and a research facility (the certificate number 91-B-0078 in the upper right corner designates the dealer and 91-R-0053 designates the research facility).
SNBL USA Annual Reports
Photo courtesy of PETA