Envigo pleads guilty to violating Animal Welfare and Clean Water laws: How it connects to Bainbridge primate facility

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, June 4, 2024

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The research animal breeder Envigo RMS recently pled guilty to one count of knowingly conspiring to violate the Animal Welfare Act, with its affiliate Envigo Global Services Inc. likewise pleading guilty to conspiring to knowingly violate the Clean Water Act. These charges stem from an investigation into Envigo’s Cumberland-based beagle mill, which was shut down in 2022 due to multiple allegations of neglect. Roughly 4,000 beagles were rescued from the facility, and Envigo, along with its parent corporation Inotiv, will now be fined a record $35 million, and also be barred from breeding or selling dogs in the future.

Despite the facility being in Virginia, and Inotiv being based in Indiana, both names should be familiar to Bainbridge residents, as Jim Harkness, CEO of Safer Human Medicine- the company aiming to build a primate breeding facility- was COO at Envigo when the facility was shut down, before leaving in October of 2022. According to reporting by the academic journal Science, Harkness and Envigo attempted to lobby against an animal welfare bill put forward by the Virginia state legislature in response to the facility’s violations, though it would still pass the state House and Senate unanimously.

During a private Q&A session with city officials and business leaders in January, Harkness defended his tenure at Envigo, saying, “So there’s always a lot of slant, as we’ve seen on everything that is going on with this one, and so the real picture doesn’t always get laid out.”

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Harkness contended that the facility suffered staffing shortages due to the pandemic, and that he opted not to euthanize the dogs because, “It’s not the right thing to do for the dogs, we’ll figure it out.”

In a speech following the recent guilty plea, Todd Kim, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, gave an opposing opinion.

“Envigo unlawfully enriched itself by failing to spend the necessary money on upgrades and by failing to hire enough trained and competent staff, both of which it needed to do to comply with the Animal Welfare Act,” he said. “Envigo hired and retained an unqualified attending veterinarian despite known concerns. Envigo perpetuated deficient veterinary practices at the facility, sanctioning improper euthanasia procedures and inadequate health checks.”

Harkness also addressed concerns over potential wastewater runoff and contamination of the Flint River at the January Q&A, saying that the water would go into the normal sewer, that there would be “some pretreatment” at the primate facility, and that figures stating there would be 440,000 gallons of wastewater was a “worst-case scenario”.

In the plea to violating the Clean Water Act, Envigo also admitted to failing to properly maintain and operate its wastewater treatment plant, discharging hundreds of thousands of gallons of improperly treated wastewater into a nearby creek.

“The company possessed a permit to discharge treated effluent into Maxey Mill Creek,” Kim said. “But beginning no later than January 2020, the treatment system was in trouble and the facility needed capital improvements to properly handle the waste. Again, Envigo failed to invest the funds necessary to bring the Cumberland facility into compliance with federal law, this time with the terms of its Clean Water Act permit.”

The Post-Searchlight has reached out to Safer Human Medicine for comment, with a spokesman responding, “Regarding the recent Envigo news, it is important to recognize that Envigo was operating during unprecedented circumstances brought on by the pandemic. The leaders of Safer Human Medicine have dedicated their careers to responsibly managing and caring for animals in medical research.”

The statement continues, “We are proud to have helped make safe, life-saving medicines a reality for Americans and their families. We have been committed to operating responsibly and ethically for decades in this field and we will continue doing just that. Our company remains committed to building a state-of-the-art facility that respects our neighbors and will aid medical research in developing the life-saving medicines of the future.”