An animal testing laboratory in Everett is defending itself against new charges regarding its care of animals, stemming from an accidental death of a monkey last fall.
SNBL USA usually doesn't seek publicity, and its local lab keeps a relatively low profile. But SNBL released information about the accident Thursday after a former employee went to the media with her own allegations.
Jim Klaassen, vice president of operations, confirmed a cynomolgus monkey died when it wasn't taken out of its cage before the cage went through a cleaning.
"An animal unfortunately died in an accident. We, of course, immediately called the U.S. Department of Agriculture and they sent an inspector who investigated," Klaassen said.
"We wash 100,000 cages a year and have never, ever had anything like this happen before," he added.
The USDA did not issue a violation for the incident.
Klaassen said it was the first time a monkey died because of a cage-cleaning accident since SNBL opened its Everett lab in late 1999.
Any accidental death of a primate, he added, is a rare occurrence.
"We just don't have accidental deaths here. That's why it was so devastating for us," Klaassen said.
SNBL USA is the American division of Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories Inc., a 51-year-old company based in Japan. SNBL also operates facilities on the East Coast and in Texas.
Since opening its facility in south Everett with just 25 employees, SNBL has grown to employ about 370 people. A few years ago, the company greatly expanded its local facility, which now holds approximately 2,300 primates, in addition to rats and mice.
As one of the largest animal testing businesses in the U.S., animal rights groups are well aware of SNBL. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named SNBL's chief executive to its list of "10 worst CEOs for animals in laboratories." The list included the leaders of nearly all the other major firms that test animals.
Michael Budkie, executive director of Stop Animal Exploitation Now, an Ohio-based group opposed to all animal testing, has called SNBL's Everett lab one of the nation's "worst facilities for violations of federal law."
He based his comments on USDA inspection reports from 2005 that described incidents where 20 marmosets, a small monkey, died during a three-week period, allegedly from improper care. SNBL USA's president, Steve Meyer, said last year that he "disagreed with the conclusions" of the inspections, which led to citations.
Klaassen added this week that the Food and Drug Administration, which also regulates testing labs, has done thorough inspections of SNBL four times in the past 8 years, and none have resulted in a violation notice, known as a Form 483.
"That's very unusual, and we're very proud of that fact," he said.
SNBL's growth reflects the increased demand for animal testing, as biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies develop more new drugs. Under FDA clinical testing rules, most drugs have to be studied on rodents and a larger mammal, typically a primate, before they can be tested on humans.
Many animal rights groups, including Budkie's, argue that there are other ways to test the safety of new drugs without using animals. Klaassen said there are no reliable alternatives yet.
"Until that paradigm changes, we feel our work is very necessary and important," Klaassen said.