Animal welfare groups slam 'lenient' penalties for primate research firm SNBL

SNBL has had four penalties for animal abuse levied against it in the last 10 years, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.

A $185,000 fine and a suspended license are scant penalty for repeated animal cruelty offenses at primate research specialist SNBL USA, said animal rights groups.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN), the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have all denounced the penalties (PDF) levied against SNBL as inadequate for actions that they claim "led to the deaths of 38 nonhuman primates" over the last five years.

Along with the fine, SNBL—a subsidiary of Japanese contract research organization Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories—has had its license suspended for 30 days from December 22. AWI said this is the fourth penalty for the firm in the last 10 years. 

The groups are horrified that the settlement agreement means that SNBL can get the suspension lifted after the 30-day period by arranging a scheduled inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"Such inspections are traditionally unannounced to prevent facilities from covering up possible violations," said the AWI in a statement.

"The USDA's abdication of its responsibility to enforce the AWA is shameful and a major setback for proper enforcement of the law," claimed Cathy Liss, AWI president, in the release. 

She described the financial penalty as "tiny for a business whose parent company has a market value of nearly $200 million," and noted that the suspension "overlaps with the holiday season—when operations are traditionally slow, anyway."

The USDA's own report (PDF) on the latest penalty said that the "gravity of the violations alleged in this complaint is great and includes 38 deaths of nonhuman primates and repeated instances in which [SNBL] failed to provide adequate veterinary care to animals and failed to meet the minimum standards for its facilities."

In an emailed statement, SNBL told FierceCRO that it has "cooperated to address and resolve this matter as quickly as possible" and the settlement "ensures that SNBL's contract research, current and future studies will continue without interruption."

"SNBL has always acted promptly to implement recommendations related to its animal care and use program," the CRO continued. "The allegations in the USDA complaint relate to issues that SNBL either self-reported to the USDA or that were discovered during routine USDA facility inspections, and all such issues have been resolved."