Animal Writes
11 March 2001 Issue
Update on Coulston Labs

from [email protected] 


In Defense of Animals, Mill Valley, CA 94941
Contact: Eric Kleiman, 717-939-3231

USDA, NIH Blasted on "Anniversaries of Inaction"

Alamogordo, NM (February 22, 2001) - Ronald Couch, Ph.D. has left The Coulston Foundation (TCF), making him the third president or vice-president to leave the reeling primate testing lab in the span of ten months, In Defense of Animals (IDA) announced today. In addition, Dr. Babette Fontenot has become the 18th veterinarian to have left the lab since 1994, while an unknown number of layoffs have apparently also occurred at the teetering facility.

Couch, who worked with Coulston for almost ten years, was also the lab's Institutional Official - legally responsible for ensuring compliance with the Animal Welfare Act - as well as head of its Division of Experimental and Applied Research. Ali Javadian, Ph.D., who left last October, was TCF's vice-president, Chief Financial Officer, and head of Virology and Immunotoxicology. Last March, David Renquist, DVM, left the lab after being president for only six months. Renquist, who had been a TCF consultant for years, had been hired specifically to bring the lab into compliance with animal welfare laws. According to IDA, the departure of Couch and Javadian may have left TCF with no Ph.D. scientists with enough experience and training to adequately serve as study directors for experiments.

"With this continued staffing upheaval, affecting both senior management and veterinary care, how can Coulston possibly comply with federal animal welfare laws and properly care for over 600 chimpanzees and 300 monkeys?" asked IDA Research Director Eric Kleiman. "These lives are in clear, imminent danger, yet both the USDA and the NIH continue their failure to enforce animal welfare laws. Almost two years after the NIH's so-called enforcement arm - the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW)
- professed its 'great concern about loong-term situation/animals at serious risk' to both USDA and NIH officials, the situation today appears worse than ever. Yet not only has the NIH continued its illegal 'supplemental awards' to Coulston - now totaling more than $2.5 million in taxpayer funds - but the USDA has taken no actual enforcement action in over two years, despite repeatedly documenting grave violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the lab since May 1999."

Kleiman noted that today marks the one-year anniversary of the External Review Team (ERT) site visit mandated by the August 24, 1999 consent decree between Coulston and the USDA to settle multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act involving negligent chimpanzee deaths, research oversight violations, and inadequate veterinary care. That unprecedented settlement required, among other things, that Coulston divest of 300 chimpanzees, hire an adequate number of qualified veterinarians as
determined by the USDA, and comply with the Animal Welfare Act. The ERT was supposed to report on all aspects of Coulston's animal care program, and to make recommendations that Coulston was mandated to implement as part of the legally binding settlement. The Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) International served as the ERT and was approved by the USDA.

In its report, available on the web at , AAALAC found gravely deficient veterinary care and staffing, and an essentially non-functioning Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee - the very same violations it found during a February 24-25, 1998 site visit regarding these cornerstones of compliance with all animal welfare laws. According to IDA, the situation in 2000 was actually worse, with less-experienced veterinarians, 100 percent veterinary turnover, and lack of veterinary staff involvement in animal care. AAALAC even suggested that inadequate care may have contributed to the deaths of 17 chimpanzees, and directly blamed the
deaths of four chimpanzees on lack of proper veterinary care. Now TCF apparently has less than three full-time veterinarians, all lacking significant chimpanzee experience.

"Today, one year later, the veterinary situation eviscerated by AAALAC is actually worse with the departure of Dr. Fontenot," stated Kleiman. "Where is the implementation of the AAALAC recommendations supposedly mandated by the USDA? What has the USDA done to enforce this report - or enforce the legally binding August 24, 1999 settlement? Or enforce its own December 1998 inspection report, in which it cited Coulston for inadequate veterinary care because it had only 2.5 clinical veterinarians - who had far more chimpanzee experience than the current staff - and needed '3-5 more' to meet animal care needs at TCF? Considering its non-enforcement of the settlement, what enforcement action has the USDA taken since it filed formal charges more than two years ago, on February 11, 1999, for the negligent deaths of the chimpanzees Terrance, Muffin and Holly?"

According to IDA, the USDA has taken none, despite repeatedly documenting grave violations of the Animal Welfare Act both in official investigations involving negligent chimpanzee deaths as well as routine inspections of the lab since May 1999. In an official investigation obtained through a joint
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Animal Protection of New Mexico and IDA, the agency found multiple violations, including inadequate veterinary care, related to the negligent May 1999 death of the chimpanzee Eason on an invasive spinal protocol, but never filed formal charges. Instead, the agency signed the August 24, 1999 settlement with Coulston fully knowing that the lab had already repeatedly violated a June 1996 settlement decree in which it had promised to "cease and desist" from
violating the Animal Welfare Act. Since the signing of the August 24, 1999 settlement, in which Coulston again promised to comply with the Act, the USDA has repeatedly documented violations of both the settlement and the Act in both inspections and investigations, yet taken no action. According
to IDA, every single USDA inspection report since the settlement - six in all - have documented violations of both the settlement and the Act. But the USDA has taken no enforcement action.

Moreover, according to IDA, the USDA has, for almost nine months, sat on evidence of violations the agency itself uncovered involving the gruesome, grossly negligent November 1999 death of the ex-Air Force chimpanzee Donna, who died from a massive infection and uterine rupture after carrying a large, dead fetus inside her for weeks. The USDA completed its investigation into Donna's death on May 26, 2000. On June 22, 2000, USDA Western Sector Director Dr. Robert Gibbens stated in a sworn affidavit that the agency "anticipates" filing formal charges based on the violations it uncovered during its investigation. To date, USDA has taken no action. When members of Congress wrote the agency last September asking about the investigation, the USDA took six weeks to respond - and in an October 31 letter failed to provide the requested information and said that the USDA was reviewing the case. That was almost four months ago. Nor has the USDA taken enforcement action regarding the August 2000 death of the ten-year-old chimpanzee Ray, despite its apparent findings of Animal Welfare Act violations during a preliminary inquiry, which eventually became a full-blown official investigation. Nor has it taken any enforcement action regarding the year-old External Review Team report, nor the repeated violations of the August 24, 1999 consent decree that the agency itself has documented. The USDA did, however, withhold for months the ERT report in response to a joint FOIA request filed by Animal Protection of New Mexico and IDA, citing what IDA called the "flimsy pretext" that releasing the report would interfere with a law enforcement proceeding, despite the fact that Coulston already possessed the entire report pursuant to the consent decree.

Also, when Coulston blatantly and illegally denied USDA inspectors access to the facility on February 18, 2000, the agency simply wrote an inspections report, but took no action. When Coulston again attempted to deny access to USDA inspectors last October but relented after several hours, the USDA
apparently didn't even bother to cite it as a violation.

Kleiman also noted that today marks the two-year anniversary of the NIH's "Restriction" of Coulston's Animal Welfare Assurance. On February 22, 1999, OLAW took this rare step based on concerns about "the number of veterinarians and their credentials." It also required, among other things, that Coulston hire seven "fully qualified" veterinarians. In March 1999, NIH publicly stated that when OLAW addresses a problem with a lab, "the institutions solve them," thus resulting in no facility having its federal funding terminated the previous year. Federal law requires that if a facility is in continuing noncompliance, after being given a "reasonable opportunity" to take corrective action, then the NIH, through OLAW, "*shall* suspend or revoke" federal funding to that facility. "I guess no one told Coulston about OLAW's great record for solving problems," said Kleiman. "These past two years that OLAW has been on the case certainly have changed conditions at Coulston. The veterinary staffing situation today is *worse* today than two years ago. Coulston apparently now has less than three full-time clinical veterinarians, none having significant chimpanzee experience. Where are the seven 'fully qualified' veterinarians supposedly mandated by OLAW? I guess that two years is not a reasonable amount of time for correcting those grave veterinary staffing deficiencies cited by OLAW. I guess that's
why OLAW has allowed over $2.5 million in illegal 'supplemental awards' since June 1999 to avert bankruptcy at this private lab. Perhaps OLAW should be renamed ''"

"At both the USDA and the NIH, 'enforcement' appears to be on paper only," concluded Kleiman. "We don't know which agency's inactions are worse, but we do know that the lives of over 600 chimpanzees and 300 monkeys are in imminent danger. We call on Congress to investigate both the NIH and the USDA, and demand that these agencies finally be compelled to enforce the law and permanently retire the primates at Coulston."

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