VIRGINIA: Lab Animal Breeder Fined $35M for Abuse, Pollution

beagle rescue

CUMBERLAND, Virginia, June 4, 2024 (ENS) – A company that provides laboratory animals to research facilities, Envigo RMS LLC, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to knowingly violate the Animal Welfare Act, AWA, and Envigo Global Services Inc. pleaded guilty to a felony of conspiring to knowingly violate the Clean Water Act.

Both pleas are in relation to a dog breeding facility located in Cumberland County, Virginia, from which the Justice Department secured the surrender of over 4,000 beagles in 2022. Ownership and physical custody of the dogs was transferred to the Humane Society of the United States, which placed the dogs into homes.

“Our nation’s animal welfare and clean water laws exist to prevent suffering and harm,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “That’s why we secured the transfer of thousands of beagles from Envigo’s Cumberland facility into adoption, and that’s why today’s plea agreement is so significant.”

As part of the resolution, Inotiv, the parent company of Envigo RMS and Envigo Global Services, will guarantee more than US$35 million in payments, be subject to increased animal care standards and be subject to a compliance monitor.

“The plea agreement includes the largest ever fine in any Animal Welfare Act case in the United States as well as heightened standards of care for facilities across the country,” Kim said.

Envigo (en-VEE-go) is a privately held contract research organization and laboratory animal sourcer that provides live animals and related products and services to pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, government, academia and other life science organizations engaged in animal testing.

The company breeds and sells research animals, including mice, rats, hamsters and guinea pigs, rabbits, beagles and non-human primates. Envigo is headquartered in Indianapolis, Indiana and employs more than 1,200 people at more than 30 locations across North America, Europe and the Middle East.

“Envigo promoted a business culture that prioritized profit and convenience over following the law. This callous approach led to dire consequences: the inhumane treatment of animals and the contamination of our waterway,” said U.S. Attorney Christopher Kavanaugh for the Western District of Virginia. “The historic monetary penalties and significant compliance measures as part of these guilty pleas send a clear message – every company, in every industry, must have compliance and corporate responsibility as a critical part of their business model.”

According to court documents, Envigo RMS conspired to knowingly violate the Animal Welfare Act by failing to provide, among other things, adequate veterinary care, adequate staffing and safe living conditions for dogs housed at the Cumberland County facility.

“The provisions of the Animal Welfare Act were designed to protect animals from any type of inhumane treatment. Even in those instances of animals being bred for scientific and medical research purposes, they still must be provided with safe and sanitary living conditions,” said Special Agent in Charge Charmeka Parker of the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General. “AWA violations remain an investigative priority for us, and we will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and assist in the criminal prosecution of those who fail to adhere to the provisions of the AWA.”

In addition, Envigo Global Services conspired to knowingly violate the Clean Water Act by failing to properly operate and maintain the wastewater treatment plant at the Cumberland County facility, which led to massive unlawful discharges of insufficiently treated wastewater into a local waterway and also impacted the health and well-being of the dogs at the facility.

“Envigo compounded the heartbreaking nature of its animal welfare crimes by committing egregious Clean Water Act violations that undermined public health and the wellbeing of the animals in their care,” said Assistant Administrator David Uhlmann of Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Everyone victimized in this precedent-setting animal welfare case deserved better: the workers, the beagles, the environment and the community. Envigo deserves every dollar of its record fine.”

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares said, “Envigo’s violations of the Clean Water Act and the Animal Welfare Act directly resulted in the contamination of local waterway, negatively impacting the health and wellbeing of the community, and the horrible suffering of over 4,000 beagles. This precedent-setting case emphasizes the power of collaboration between local, state and federal authorities.”

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the entities will serve from three to five years of probation and pay a total criminal fine of $22 million — that is $11 million for each violation. In addition, the entities will pay approximately $1.1 million to the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force and approximately $1.9 million to the Humane Society of the United States for direct assistance provided to the investigation.

An additional $3.5 million will be paid to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to benefit and restore the environment and ecosystems in Cumberland County, at least $500,000 of which will be spent on purchasing riparian wetland or riparian land located in or near Cumberland, a small town of 365 people in the center of the state.

The entities will spend at least $7 million to improve their facilities and personnel beyond the standards imposed by the Animal Welfare Act.

Finally, the entities will pay all costs associated with a compliance monitor, which will oversee the entities’ compliance with these enhanced animal welfare standards, the Animal Welfare Act, the Clean Water Act, a nationwide compliance plan and additional terms of the agreements and probation.

Sentencing is scheduled for October 7, 2024.

Featured image: Animal rescue worker removes abused beagles from Envigo’s Cumberland, Virginia facility, 2022 (Photo courtesy World Animal News)

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