By BIANCA BRUNO
SAN DIEGO (CN) – A San Diego-based laboratory-for-hire has been cited 13 times in two years for animal welfare violations by the United States Department of Agriculture, although it has yet to face consequences.
BTS Research’s violations include holding monkeys in restraints for too long, failing to provide proper enrichment to primates and neglecting post-operative care after animal surgery.
BTS received its 13th citation during an inspection on Nov. 15, according to a USDA report.
During the USDA’s most recent inspection, it discovered macaque monkeys held in restraint chairs for up to three hours at a time, which resulted in “unnecessary discomfort for the animals.”
USDA inspector Katharine Frank also found BTS did not provide proper “environment enhancement” for primates, including toys, treats and foraging items. The enhancements promote psychological well-being and are required under the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates how animals are treated in research facilities.
This was the second time in two years a USDA inspector cited BTS for failing to promote the psychological well-being of primates. Along with providing enrichment items such as toys, primates must be grouped socially and given “special attention” if they are housed alone.
Dr. Alka Chandna, senior laboratory oversight specialist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), said in an interview that BTS violated what are considered the minimum standards outlined by the Animal Welfare Act.
She claimed many of the monkeys at BTS were found to be circling their cages and exhibiting “stereotypical behavior you see in insane asylums.”
Chandna noted laboratories-for-hire, or labs that are contracted to conduct experiments for pharmaceutical and chemical companies and even universities, tend to have more Animal Welfare Act violations than other types of labs because “they essentially have too many cooks in the kitchen.”
A report from Nov. 12, 2015 noted BTS had to euthanize a dog after it performed surgery and then failed to give it proper post-operative care.
In her report, USDA inspector Alexandra Andricos said that the lab’s records were incomplete or missing and that the technician who sutured the dog was apparently not trained to do so. There is no evidence that the dog received pain killers or antibiotics during the surgery or after, including during the suturing procedure.
“Failure to ensure the oversight of proper training and qualifications of personnel involved in protocols or surgical emergencies may negatively impact the health and well-being of the animals,” the report stated.
The lack of adequate veterinary care and pain management can “cause unnecessary pain and distress to the animal,” Andricos added.
Chandna said it’s not unusual for vet care to be delayed with laboratories-for-hire because the contract lab will often consult with its client before treating an animal.
She added that the uncovered violations at the lab are just the “tip of the iceberg,” pointing out that the USDA has inspected BTS much more frequently than other labs because it has failed to correct past violations.
Labs are typically inspected about once a year, according to Chandna. But BTS Research was inspected by the USDA three times in 2015 and four times in 2016.
The frequent inspections indicate BTS is on the USDA’s radar, Chandna said.
USDA public affairs specialist Pamela Manns said in an interview that the USDA does not compare laboratories in terms of repeat or frequent violations of the Animal Welfare Act, but she confirmed that facilities “at risk of noncompliance” are inspected more often than the annual requirement under the act. If the USDA chooses to pursue enforcement action against repeat offenders, laboratories can face monetary penalties.
According to BTS Research’s website, the laboratory-for-hire maintains the confidentiality of its clients and those who sponsor or pay for studies, which is typical in academic research.
BTS Research did not return a phone request for comment.