Texas research facility fined for deaths of primates

AP News
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Posted: Jul 29, 2016 4:19 PM

DALLAS (AP) — A South Texas research facility has been fined after 13 primates died of hyperthermia in overheated rooms, a federal official said Friday.

Covance Research Products in Alice was fined $31,500 for four violations of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act following the 2014 deaths of the cynomolgus monkeys, said Tanya Espinosa, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The monkeys are a type of macaque often used in medical research.

Espinosa said the maximum penalty for a single violation of the law is $10,000, so the maximum fine Covance faced was $40,000.

Two animals died in September 2014, when a thermostat malfunctioned at the facility about 40 miles west of Corpus Christi. The other deaths were caused by a similar incident about a month later, when a thermostat override switch failed.

The USDA issued a citation to Covance saying that it "failed to protect the health and well-being" of the animals. The citation also found that other primates suffered in July 2014, when they weren't given water or proper care after being flown into Texas for Covance experiments.

"Covance directed transporters to travel without stopping to the Covance facility, despite being aware that the airline had not provided water as required, that the transport trailers' air conditioning units were malfunctioning and that at least five nonhuman primates were weak and in distress," the citation said.

Animal rights activists said the fines were too low. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said Covance was a "brazen violator" of animal welfare laws and that fines "could and should be substantially higher if they are going to deter violations."

Covance didn't respond to a request for comment Friday. But at the time, the company said the Alice facility would be manually monitored until it added electronic temperature monitoring and alerts. The company has headquarters in Princeton, New Jersey, and provides animal testing to aid in the development of drugs for an array of ailments, from heart disease to diabetes.

"Covance takes very seriously our ethical and regulatory responsibilities to treat research animals with the utmost care and respect," the company said in a statement following the primate deaths.

Research and other facilities face unannounced USDA inspections each year, Espinosa said.

"We make sure they have fixed those areas of noncompliance, absolutely," she said.