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A PRIMATE HELL-HOLE: Five monkeys used for COVID-19 vaccine testing die of dehydration at U.S. research center

The New Iberia Research Center, with more than 8,500 nonhuman primates,
at the time was participating in eight vaccine and therapeutic drug studies related to the COVID-19 virus.

KATIE GAGLIANO: An Ohio-based animal rights organization is again calling for federal fines to be levied against the University of Louisiana at Lafayette after five infant monkeys died at the school’s New Iberia Research Center in July, following similar deaths last year… On Aug. 26, a USDA inspector completed a focused inspection at the center assessing the monkey deaths. The incident was marked as a “critical” noncompliance incident because it resulted in the deaths of the animals, per the USDA’s animal welfare inspection guide.

The inspector wrote that on July 19, an unresponsive infant rhesus macaque was showing signs of dehydration and was euthanized after receiving a poor prognosis. Facility staff observed the remaining monkeys in that housing space twice that morning and saw no signs of dehydration among the other monkeys… On July 20, two infant rhesus macaque monkeys were found dead, two more were unresponsive and a fifth was dehydrated but responsive. After treatment, one recovered and the other two infant monkeys were euthanized…

Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now!, sent a complaint letter Thursday to Robert Gibbens, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal welfare operations director, after the USDA released an inspection report detailing how five infant rhesus macaque monkeys perished or were euthanized at the New Iberia Research Center after becoming dehydrated. “It is simply unconscionable that ULL staff is incapable of effectively monitoring primates, noticing issues only when animals are either dead, or unresponsive,” Budkie wrote.

The SAEN executive called for a full USDA investigation into the deaths, noting three additional heat-related monkey deaths in August 2020 his organization filed a complaint over, and requested the facility be fined $10,000 per animal, per infraction… This is the second time this year SAEN has filed a complaint against UL Lafayette following primate deaths at the New Iberia Research Center.

In January, Budkie filed a federal complaint with Gibbens and the USDA after acquiring a copy of a letter from New Iberia Research Center Director Francois Villinger to a National Institute of Health administrator detailing the deaths of three adult rhesus macaque monkeys from heat stroke on Aug. 5, 2020 and the center’s response.

Budkie accused the center’s staff of “sheer negligence” in failing to protect the animals and called for fines of $10,000 per animal, per infraction, the same penalty called for in Thursday’s letter. “The monkey death toll at ULL continues to climb,” Budkie said in a statement. “I am appalled that ULL negligence allowed these monkeys to die unnecessarily. All of these deaths were preventable”… The animal welfare nonprofit said in its statement UL Lafayette has a “history of breaking federal law” and has paid four monetary fines since 2007 for policy violations, including a $100,000 fine in 2017.

The New Iberia Research Center is the nation’s largest academically affiliated, nonhuman primate research center with more than 8,500 nonhuman primates at the center’s 118-acre facility in New Iberia. The center participated in clinical trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, the university said in a February release, and at the time was participating in eight vaccine and therapeutic drug studies related to the virus. SOURCE…

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