The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating a monkey breeding facility in southwest Florida after an animal welfare group said an undercover worker found sick and injured monkeys living in inhumane and unsanitary conditions.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released a video Monday purporting to show conditions at Primate Products Inc. in Hendry County. PETA spokesman Dan Paden said the video was taken by a PETA employee who was hired to work undercover at the facility. PETA first gave the video exclusively to The Associated Press.
After meeting with PETA, inspectors from the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service went to Primate Products Inc.
Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the USDA, said in an email Monday that Primate Products Inc. has three weeks to appeal the USDA inspectors' report, which won't be made public until that process is complete.
Espinosa said that the USDA does "currently have an open investigation into this facility."
The seven minute video released by PETA showed workers holding rhesus macaque monkeys with protruding rectal tissue by the tails. The video also purports to show monkeys in feces-covered cages, monkeys without working water dispensers, and primates with broken bones and exposed wounds. A monkey also allegedly died from hypothermia because of cold temperatures, and another was injured by a bear. The monkeys are kept in outdoor cages.
"Primate Products has been awarded federal contracts worth more than $13 million of taxpayers' money and ships monkeys to massive testing laboratories and universities," said Dan Paden, a PETA spokesman. "Its customers, like our own National Institutes of Health, need to watch this footage and decide whether they want to continue to bankroll this cruelty and these animals' violent capturing, pain, terror and deaths."
Hendry County, in the southwestern part of the state near Naples and Fort Myers, is something of a mecca for primate breeding facilities. Three monkey breeding farms containing thousands of primates operate in the small, rural county, and a fourth is in the works.
The companies say they're doing nothing wrong, they're properly permitted agricultural facilities and they're in the area with the blessing of authorities.
In November, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Hendry County officials who approved that Primate Products Inc. could hold as many as 3,200 long-tailed macaques, a species linked to outbreaks of infectious disease. The lawsuit said Hendry County approved the controversial project behind closed doors with only the facility's supporters present and failed to hold the public hearing required by the state's Sunshine Law. Last week, the lawsuit was expanded to include a second farm that rents space on the property.
Thomas J. Rowell, a veterinarian and president of Primate Products Inc., told The Associated Press on Monday that "the inspection was thorough."
"This is part of the process in which we fully cooperated," Rowell wrote in an email. "I'm not aware of who provided the video. We welcomed the USDA's visit. It's good when you get the opportunity to review your operation through the eyes of others. We are always looking for opportunities to improve upon our program and appreciate the corrective actions and timelines provided by the USDA. Staff looks forward to working together with the aim of improving upon our animal welfare program."
Primate Products uses two species of macaques from China, Cambodia, Mauritius or Vietnam. The animals are quarantined upon arriving in the U.S.
Primate Products then breeds the monkeys for resale and distribution to research institutions, pharmaceutical companies and the federal government, according to a company spokesman. The monkeys sell for about $3,200 each.
Activists and residents say that the facilities shouldn't be covered under the county's agricultural zoning regulations. Monkeys, they say, are very different from cows or horses.
"As seen in the video, the company takes spinal fluid and blood from these wild animals, which can in no way be considered the 'agriculture' use that the company's land is zoned for," Paden said. "Hendry County can and should put an end to this cruelty and shut Primate Products down immediately."
PETA filed a formal complaint with the USDA, asking the agency to look into alleged violations of animal welfare and protection laws.
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