Animal welfare group outraged after SC monkey facility gets $4.6M COVID-19 contract
Media Coverage About SAEN Stop Animal Exploitation Now

ACTION ALERT:

Contact:

Dr. Robert Gibbens
Director, Western Region, USDA
[email protected] 
[email protected]

Please levy the MAXIMUM FINE against Alpha Genesis for their blatant disregard of the Animal Welfare Act when their negligence killed eleven monkeys. Their behavior should NOT be tolerated and MUST be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

 

Animal welfare group outraged after SC monkey facility gets $4.6M COVID-19 contract

From Sam Ogozalek, IslandPacket.com, July 19, 2020

One of South Carolina’s largest COVID-19-related federal contracts has been awarded to a Lowcountry monkey breeding facility recently accused of negligence that resulted in several monkeys’ deaths.

Alpha Genesis Inc., a primate research company in northern Beaufort County, won a $4.6 million contract in June from the National Institutes of Health for “maintenance” of pathogen-free Macaque monkey breeding colonies, according to procurement data released by the federal Pandemic Response Accountability Committee.

NIH in early July told a reporter to file a public records request for additional information about the contract, including how the monkeys might be used for coronavirus research. That request was pending as of Thursday.

The contract was signed June 2 and is set to be completed by September 2024.

The executive director of an animal advocacy group, which filed a complaint against the company on Feb. 17, questioned why the facility ever received the award.

Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!, an Ohio-based organization, lodged a seven-page complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after obtaining incident reports that Alpha Genesis sent to NIH following at least 11 monkey deaths in 2019 and 2018. The animals died of thirst, exposure to the elements and other injuries, according to the complaint.

The group’s complaint alleged violations of the 1966 Animal Welfare Act — a law that sets minimum standards for the treatment of certain animals used in research or bred for commercial sale.

Michael Budkie, executive director of SAEN, in an interview said he doesn’t understand why NIH continues to funnel money to Alpha Genesis, a Yemassee-based company that the agency has contracted with for years.

The USDA in 2017 levied a $12,600 fine against Alpha Genesis for violations including monkey escapes and an incident where a monkey was attacked and died after being placed in the wrong social group enclosure, among other things.

“Why do you continue to fund a facility that does such a poor job?” Budkie said. “Why do you reward a company that can’t even keep its animals alive?”

The USDA recently confirmed to the newspaper that it had received SAEN’s complaint. But an agency spokesman could not confirm or deny whether the USDA had a pending investigation at the facility.

Greg Westergaard, Alpha Genesis’ president and CEO, wrote in a statement Tuesday that SAEN files complaints every year against his company and most other federal and public institutions that work with monkeys.

He pointed to a routine USDA inspection performed on Feb. 19 that found no issues at Alpha Genesis, which typically houses about 6,000 primates.

“As this (inspection) report and the reports for the last several years have indicated we are in full compliance with all Federal regulations and with the Animal Welfare Act,” the CEO wrote. “I challenge Michael Budkie to make an appearance at our facilities rather than behaving like a coward and making inflammatory accusations from afar through the local press.”

The group’s latest complaint focuses on four incidents in 2019 and 2018:

  • The company told NIH that on Aug. 10, 2019, two monkeys were found dead and one was found dehydrated but alive at the facility. Another monkey died on Aug. 14. An internal investigation revealed those monkeys’ water supply wasn’t functioning properly, according to an Alpha Genesis incident report attached to SAEN’s complaint. A veterinary technician and supervisor were fired following the deaths. Another supervisor and manager were suspended for two weeks without pay.
  • On March 16, 2018, two groups of monkeys violently fought after “locks and/or bolts” weren’t properly secured in an enclosure, according to a report. Seven monkeys died of their injuries. A site director was fired and a supervisor was disciplined in response to the incident, records attached to the complaint show.
  • On Jan. 26, 2018, a monkey was discovered dead in an outdoor area of an enclosure, according to an incident report. The rest of the monkey’s group had been in a heated part of the facility overnight. A technician was fired, supervisors were given written warnings and a site director was suspended for a week, records show. “It is (Alpha Genesis Inc.’s standard operating procedure) to secure Macaca fascicularis (monkeys) in indoor heated housing overnight in the winter when outdoor ambient temperatures reach real feel lows below 45°F,” an incident report read.
  • A monkey suffered from asphyxiation on Jan. 15, 2018, after grabbing part of a sunshade outside an enclosure and becoming wrapped in it. It’s unclear if the monkey died. Westergaard declined to elaborate on the matter Wednesday. Two sunshades were later removed from the property, according to one report.

In its complaint, SAEN claimed that the incidents violated multiple animal treatment sections in the Animal Welfare Act.

When asked about the February complaint, and whether it factored into NIH’s procurement process, the agency in a statement said Alpha Genesis self-reported the incidents and properly managed them under the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

The company is in good standing with NIH’s Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, according to the agency.

“The NIH OLAW reviewed the incidents and found the proposed corrective and preventive actions to be acceptable,” NIH said.

OLAW provides oversight of NIH-funded research involving animals and can restrict or withdraw a company’s Animal Welfare Assurance if it doesn’t correct “deficiencies.” NIH would revoke or suspended contracts and grants if a company lost its assurance.

Aside from the $4.6 million contract, Alpha Genesis has won four other NIH contracts as part of the agency’s coronavirus response, PRAC data show. Those four awards total at least $556,000. At least four of the five contracts are for the housing, care and transport of primates, NIH said.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — a part of NIH led by Dr. Anthony Fauci — is running and supporting coronavirus treatment research, including clinical trials for vaccine candidates. Two of the five Alpha Genesis awards went through the NIAID contracting office.

In a February news release, Alpha Genesis said its research center was “utilizing its considerable resources to develop a much-needed vaccine to battle what looks to be an emerging pandemic.”

“In partnership with government organizations, private foundations, and private industry, Alpha Genesis scientists conduct studies seeking breakthrough discoveries leading to improved treatments and cures,” the release read.

The $4.6 million contract is the third-biggest COVID-19-related federal contract awarded for projects in South Carolina this year, according to PRAC data last updated on July 16. The largest contract went to an international engineering firm with an office in Greenville called Fluor Intercontinental Inc. That company won over $12 million to build a COVID-19 staging area for Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. 

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