According to several people aware of the situation, top U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials were subpoenaed by a federal grand jury last year over several cases of gross negligence of beagle laboratory dogs.
Several sources revealed that as part of a criminal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) into Envigo, a deputy administrator of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer, and the director of animal welfare operations, Dr. Robert Gibbens, were forced to appear before a grand jury in the Western District of Virginia.
They were invited to explain why they took no action against the breeder at animal research center Envigo, despite the fact that on-site mistreatment of thousands of beagles was repeatedly documented.
US authorities searched the facility of Envigo, a major US breeder of animals for research, in Cumberland, Virginia, in May 2022, on which more than 4,000 beagles were seized.
‘Direct’ and ‘critical’ violations
In four visits to Envigo’s Cumberland facility between July 2021 and March 2022, inspectors reported more than 60 violations, according to public documents. Most were categorized as “direct” or “critical” violations. Animals with violations labeled “direct” are at immediate risk of serious injury.
Among the shortcomings found were dangerous flooring, lack of veterinary treatment, a filthy environment, the euthanasia of dogs without anesthesia, malnutrition of nursing mothers, and failure to record the causes of death of hundreds of puppies.
Envigo subsequently had to close the facility last year. The company later agreed to turn in the beagles after settling civil charges that it had shown gross “negligence” regarding the welfare of the dogs.
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According to several sources, prosecutors questioned Goldentyer and Gibbens, who appeared in court in November and August, respectively, about how they handled the Envigo inspections and why they took no action against the company despite the abundance of documented evidence of violations.
APHIS inspectors who discovered numerous violations at Envigo in 2021 and 2022 also had to testify before the grand jury the year before.
Emails show that APHIS managers and inspectors occasionally disagreed about what information should be in their reports and how resources should be allocated. For example, it appears that tensions between Gibbens and Miller grew rapidly after Envigo disputed several of the inspection’s findings in October.
Deleting files and false information
Envigo was accused in one of the deleted citations of obstructing inspection by providing “false information.” The company was summoned not to “interfere with, threaten, abuse … or harass any APHIS official.”
According to people familiar with the situation, the action alarmed some inspectors and prompted several employees to protest the USDA inspector general.
One of the complaints, which Reuters was able to access, alleged that the report was omitted after Envigo’s lawyers contacted Deputy Administrator Goldentyer. Reuters could not determine the cause of the report’s omission.
Graphic descriptions of improper euthanasia procedures and in-depth descriptions of dog fighting deemed “extremely abnormal for the breed” were among the deleted material.
After learning that Gibbens and the other members of the appeals committee intended to vindicate Envigo by removing two of the four disputed quotes from the final report, Miller expressed concern.
Miller emailed her colleagues that Goldentyer was removing her from overseeing the Envigo inspections as inspectors prepared for another inspection last March.
The March 2022 inspection found five violations, two of which were “immediate.”
Federal agents executed the search warrant two weeks later and discovered 446 dogs in “acute distress” and in need of immediate veterinary care.
Although inspectors fined Envigo on May 3 for one violation — failure to fix the hazardous floor — APHIS did not follow up until then.
Reuters contributed to this article