Charles River Laboratory execs, current & former, are involved
BRAZORIA, Texas; BAINBRIDGE, Georgia––What’s worse than one gigantic new monkey colony built to supply laboratories?
Two gigantic new monkey colonies built to supply laboratories, headed by former executives of Charles River Laboratories and Inotiv, two of most notorious alleged corporate scofflaws in the laboratory animal supply industry.
(See What Charles River Laboratories has in common with Al Capone, Charles River Labs sending bootlegged macaques back to traffickers, Beagle breeder Envigo shortchanged shareholders too, lawsuit alleges,
Hot, swampy, conservative, & skeptical
Brazoria, Texas, is a city of about 3,000 people, just under 60 miles south of Houston and about the same distance southwest of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Bainbridge, Georgia, is a city of about 15,000 people, 40 miles north of Tallahassee, Florida.
Both Brazoria and Bainbridge are hot, swampy, politically conservative communities with long histories of accommodating animal use industries, from cattle ranching to hunting preserves, but––except for the local politicians promoting the Bainbridge project––neither community seems eager to accommodate the monkey business.
“A shell company”
Brazoria has been targeted by Kandurt LLC, an entity incorporated in Austin, Texas on March 23, 2023, having originally been formed in Delaware.
“On March 28, 2023,” reported West Brazos Weekly editor Susan Avera Holt on December 26, 2023, “Kandurt LLC purchased 538 acres on a private road at the end of CR 2, also known as Sulphur Ditch Road. CR 2,” Holt explained, “The acreage is largely undeveloped and was once part of the Damon Hunting Club.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] calls Kandurt LLC “a shell company” for Charles River Laboratories’ scheme to “to build the biggest monkey-holding facility in the history of the U.S.,” on “500 acres of ecologically sensitive land” abutting the San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge and property owned by The Nature Conservancy.
Kandurt is headed by Charles River Laboratories corporate executive vice president Shannon Parisotto.
“Enormity cannot be overstated”
“The enormity of Charles River’s plans cannot be overstated,” says PETA. “The company, which is currently under federal investigation for possible violations of monkey importation laws, wants to build a monkey importation quarantine and breeding facility.
“If constructed, it could imprison 43,000 monkeys,” more than six times the size of the next largest facility in the U.S. supplying monkeys to researchers.
Discovering the Kandurt LLC plans in November 2023, PETA sent letters of notification to 4,000 Brazoria County residents.
“Turned out in droves to object”
“Residents turned out in droves to object at the Brazoria County Board of Commissioners’ November 28, 2023 meeting,” recounts a PETA media statement.
The Brazoria county commissioners “unanimously recommended that federal authorities axe the proposal,” PETA says, but “despite fierce local opposition, Charles River’s monkey prison could still be constructed if Texas state and federal authorities grant permits for it.”
“It’s just not a good fit,” West Columbia, Texas mayor Laurie Kincannon told the West Brazos Weekly. “The only positive is economic in nature, but that doesn’t offset the negatives. I don’t think that any of our communities are going to be very welcoming to people that work in that establishment.”
West Columbia, also in Brazoria County, is just north of the city of Brazoria.
“I don’t see any upside”
Agreed Brazoria mayor Philip Ray, to Susan Avera Holt, “All the council is against it. It’s too close to the bottomlands that are so vital to the ecosystem, plus it’s a flood zone area. There’s no upside to having a monkey farm in Brazoria County. Even the jobs would be specialized. I don’t see any upside. The more you look, there’s no positives at all.”
Hoping to enlist support from Texas state representative Cody Thane Vasut, a Republican in office since 2021, Charles River Laboratories “stated that ‘the purpose of Charles River’s planned facility in Brazoria is to house purpose-bred non-human primate laboratory animals,'” Susan Avera Holt of the West Brazos Weekly summarized.
“The exotic primates, such as the long-tailed macaque, would be shipped over from southeast Asia,” Holt continued.
That traffic has already landed Charles River Laboratories in significant trouble.
Long one of the biggest monkey importers and vendors to researchers, Charles River Laboratories on February 22, 2023 “disclosed that it had received a subpoena related to shipments of monkeys from Cambodia and had voluntarily suspended future shipments until it could develop a new protocol that has the U.S. government’s blessing,” reported Carolyn Y. Johnson and Daniel Gilbert of the Washington Post.
The subpoena, from the U.S. Department of Justice, came after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida on November 16, 2022 indicted primate supplier James Man Sang Lau, 64, five of his employees, and two Cambodian government officials for “smuggling and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act.”
The Lacey Act of 1900, the oldest U.S. wildlife protection law still on the books, prohibits interstate traffic in illegally obtained wildlife or wildlife parts.
Texas legislator remains unpersuaded
As of March 2023, Charles River Laboratories was holding 1,200 illegally imported wild-caught long-tailed macaques in a Houston warehouse. What became of them has not been disclosed.
But West Brazos Weekly editor Susan Avera Holt did not delve deeply into that situation.
“The letter from Charles River [to Cody Thane Vasut] goes on to say,” Holt wrote, that site construction will be a $150 million investment and will create roughly 200 skilled labor jobs, including industry-specific veterinarians, highly trained vet techs, non-human primate behavior specialists, and technicians with industry-specific animal care certifications.
“This site is intended exclusively as a holding facility,” Holt quoted the Charles River Laboratories letter, “and contrary to activist’s assertions, there are no plans now or in the foreseeable future to conduct any breeding operations in the planned Brazoria facility.”
But state legislator Cody Thane Vasut was unpersuaded.
“Proposed site is not suited”
“I appreciate representatives of the company meeting with me and other officials to hear our concerns, and deciding to pause the project while they re-evaluate the site,” Vasut posted to Facebook on January 11, 2024.
“It is my hope they will conclude this proposed site is not suited for a quarantine facility,” Vasut said.
Vasut told Holt that at the state level, “not much can be done to stop the project. He did check with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality,” Holt paraphrased, “which protects the state’s public health and natural resources, but was told on December 5, 2023 that the commission had not yet received an application from Charles River Laboratories or Kandurt “for activities that may require a permit or authorization.”
Wrote Vasut to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality “The property Charles River Laboratories acquired for this proposed project is ill-suited for any significant development, let alone a medical research facility.
Property flooded during Hurricane Harvey
“The property is located in a low-lying forested area near the San Bernard Wildlife Refuge,” Vasut explained, which flooded during Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Summarized Holt, “Vasut expressed concerns about the site generating significant quantities of biological waste and how that waste could flow into the San Bernard watershed. He touched on the potential for mosquito-borne diseases and how easily escaping monkeys could hide in the heavily forested adjoining properties.”
Congressional representative Randy Weber, holding the Texas 14th District seat since 2013, also a Republican, on November 30, 2023 wrote to Charles River Laboratories that, “I have grave concerns about the apparent lack of public information and discussion with local officials” preceding the Charles River Laboratories land acquisition.
”This has caused a significant level of unrest among the citizens of our community,” Weber added.
PETA, meanwhile, reminded Brazoria County residents that, “In 2018, four baboons escaped from San Antonio’s Texas Biomedical Research Institute and were spotted by drivers on the highway. Earlier, several chimpanzees escaped from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Bastrop, Texas.
“A monkey who escaped from Georgia’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center was never found. Two dozen monkeys found refuge in the local forest after escaping from Louisiana’s Tulane National Primate Research Center.”
These are all locations within a four-hour drive of Brazoria.
Cited by feds
PETA also mentioned that, “Charles River has been cited by federal authorities on numerous occasions for failing to provide even the most basic animal protections required by law, including for denying veterinary care and pain relief. The company baked 32 monkeys to death after no one noticed that a thermostat had malfunctioned at its Nevada facility.
“Charles River is already the top importer of long-tailed macaques into the U.S.,” PETA continued. “The company experimented on 16,000 monkeys in 2022 alone. Rather than expanding, it should switch to more effective, animal-free test methods.”
Another Delaware-incorporated start-up
The fracas in Brazoria County, Texas, helped to flush out a scheme by a company called Safer Human Medicine to start a monkey breeding colony in Bainbridge, Georgia.
Safer Human Medicine is described by Bainbridge Post-Searchlight managing editor Ethan Reddish as “a recent start-up incorporated in Delaware, with business filings in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
“While the monkeys bred at the facility will be used in lab testing, they are only being bred at the facility,” wrote Reddish. “Both city manager Chris Hobby and development authority executive director Rick McCaskill confirmed no testing is planned on site, only breeding.
Exempted from property taxes
“According to McCaskill,” said Reddish, “Safer Human Medicine has been in discussion about this facility for between six and nine months. When complete, the project will bring roughly 263 jobs to the area.
“The city and county government,” Reddish reported, have approved “a 100% tax abatement for the facility’s first 10 years; after this 10-year period, the abatement would be reduced by 9% each year until fully taxable.”
Translation: regardless of what the monkey breeding colony costs Bainbridge, the city will receive no tax revenue from the presence of the monkeys for 22 years, longer than the working lifespan of most animal care facilities.
What did they know, when?
Safer Human Medicine president David Johst, a former Charles River Laboratories executive vice president, “retired from Charles River Laboratories in 2020, after almost 30 years with the company,” Reddish wrote.
The chief operating officer for Safer Human Medicine, Kurt Derfler, was previously executive director of primate operations for Charles River Laboratories.
Safer Human Medicine chief executive officer Jim Harkness was previously chief operating officer for Envigo, now an Inotiv subsidiary.
Harkness left Envigo in October 2022, three months after the Indianapolis law firm Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP filed a lawsuit alleging that “Envigo and Inotiv’s Cumberland, Virginia facility engaged in widespread and flagrant violations of the Animal Welfare Act, did not properly remedy issues with regards to animal welfare at the Cumberland facility,” saw share prices plummet when the situation became public knowledge, and “as a result, Defendants’ statements about its business, operations, and prospects, were materially false and misleading and/or lacked a reasonable basis at all relevant times.”
As of December 2023, two other law firms specializing in pursuing cases on behalf of shareholders, Pomerantz LLC and Bragar Eagel & Squire, P.C., had also announced that they are “investigating potential claims against Inotiv, Inc.,” originating out of alleged misrepresentations about the health of Envigo.
“Hundreds of beagle puppies died”
A May 21, 2022 court order against Envigo, summarized Bragar Eagel & Squire, P.C., “observed that hundreds of beagle puppies died in the Cumberland facility (many of whom were not given anesthesia before they were euthanized by intracardiac injection), nursing female beagles were denied food, and many puppies died from cold exposure.”
“Our sister paper The Farmville Herald reported at the time on federal authorities seizing over 4,000 dogs from the facility,” recalled Reddish, “citing extreme cases of neglect and improper veterinary care.
“In response to the facility’s violations, the Virginia state legislature introduced a bill that would raise standards and penalties for animal welfare violations; according to reporting by the academic journal Science, Harkness and Envigo attempted to lobby against the bill, but it passed 98-0 in the Virginia House and 39-0 in the state Senate.
“After Harkness left in October of 2022,” Reddish finished, “Envigo was subpoenaed by the Southern District of Florida one month later, for alleged involvement in Cambodian primate smuggling.”
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