Why Animals Continue to be Abused: Statement of Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, USDA Whistleblower
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Why Animals Continue to be Abused: Statement of Dr. Isis Johnson-Brown, USDA Whistleblower
From www.saenonline.org

Former United States Department of Agriculture Animal Care Inspector for Oregon, Whistleblower

While working for the United States Department of Agriculture as the inspector in Oregon for the Federal Animal Welfare Act, I was dedicated to providing the animals the protections, minimal as they are, that are stipulated by law. This is no easy task. As Oregon’s only inspector, I was responsible for the oversight of over 120 facilities throughout the state. I barely had time to visit each facility as required, which for some facilities was no more than once every three years. If that wasn’t enough, I soon found out that my own supervisors were working against me at every turn.

The research institutions I visited, including the Oregon Primate Center, were not happy to see me coming once they realized that I was going to hold them to the law. This reaction I expected. What was surprising to me was my own supervisors were disappointed and unsupportive of my efforts to simply enforce the bare minimum standards in the Code of Federal Regulations. The USDA has a good ol’ boy relationship with the research industry and the laws are nothing more than smoke and mirrors. More than once, I was instructed by a supervisor to make a personal list of violations of the law, cut that list in half, and then cut that list in half again before writing up my inspection reports. My willingness to uphold the law during my site visits at the Primate Center led to me being “retrained” several times by higher-ups in the USDA.

Understand that the laws I was attempting to enforce require no more than minimum standards— food and water, shelter from the elements, a clean cage that protects from injury and “adequate” veterinary care— that’s about it. At the Primate Center, the attending veterinarian tried to march me through as fast as he could. Only when I specifically asked to see a husbandry task, like cage washing, would he grudgingly show me. I would spot check records on paper but for the most part, I had to take the attending veterinarian on his word about procedures and veterinary care.

Because monkeys are intelligent, curious, active and social, so very similar to people, in 1985 the Animal Welfare Act was amended, adding language that focuses on their psychological well-being. The Federal Animal Welfare Act, by regulation emphasizes monkeys’ social needs and states in a special policy that these needs must be met, preferably by monkeys being housed together. Unfortunately, these provisions were set up without any real teeth. All the facility has to do is have a written plan on file that says how they intend to provide for psychological well-being. Dr. Kelley, the attending veterinarian, bragged about their psychological well-being plan for the hundreds of monkeys housed indoors. The plan states that the Primate Center will pair monkeys “to the extent possible.” When I toured the facility, what I actually saw was that the monkeys were almost all singularly caged and resultantly displaying neurotic behaviors. The well-being plan also stated that foraging devices intended to distract monkeys from self-abusive behavior were to be routinely, regularly provided, especially to the singularly housed animals. Instead, the staff admitted that they often didn’t have the time to attend to the time-consumptive task of filling the devices with food. It was clear that ORPRC had a psychological well-being plan that wasn’t working but I was powerless to fix the problems. All I could do was make suggestions that monkeys be housed in pairs or groups. Nothing changed in the two years I was the inspector.

One day in February of 1999 I received a phone call from an animal technician working at the Primate Center who wished to remain anonymous for fear of losing his job. I later found out it was Mr. Rossell. He reported an outbreak of listeria in the outdoor corrals. He said that monkeys were sick because of the winter rains and lots of babies were dying. I went out to the Primate Center to take a look for myself. I cited in my report, “…Corrals 5,3,6,4 and 1 were excessively wet and muddy…Most adult monkeys appeared to have wet muddy tails buttocks and feet…about 40 percent of the monkeys in Corral 5 and 3 have alopecia (hair loss).”

The Center was experiencing an outbreak of listeria and 10 of 82 females in Corral 5 had stillbirths as a result. I counted the numbers sick with listeria, shigella, campylobacter, diarrhea and dehydration and confirmed the complaint’s validity on all counts. I dug up the sick and death tolls of previous winters and discovered that for the monkeys housed outdoors, many more monkeys get sick and die during winter months than in summer. I summed it up in my report to say the statistics “…cause question if the monkeys are truly acclimatized to the weather conditions here in Oregon.” The Attending Veterinarian, Dr. Kelley, disagreed. He said the monkeys were acclimated. The law has a loophole. The attending vet has the final say about whether animals are acclimated, just as he does with psychologically adjustment and distress. I filed my report which confirmed the complaint, but the USDA took no action.

The USDA has little motivation to enforce the already weak laws of the Animal Welfare Act. I was unable to do my job and eventually, out of frustration, I had to quit. I recognize the system is not set up to protect the animals but instead the financial interests of the research labs.

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