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Company that bred beagles for research pleads guilty to negligence, ordered to pay record $35 million fine

A company that breeds beagles for medical research agreed Monday to pay a record $35 million in a criminal proceeding alleging it neglected thousands of dogs at its breeding facility in rural Virginia .

Prosecutors said the penalties represent the harshest ever imposed in an animal welfare case.

The plea agreement also prohibits the company that operated the facility, Envigo RMS, as well as parent company Inotiv, from breeding or selling dogs in the future.

The federal investigation into Envigo gained national attention in May 2022 when federal authorities raided the breeding facility in Cumberland County, Virginia, and found nearly 450 animals in acute distress.

The company subsequently agreed to abandon the 4,000 beagles in the facility, who were sent across the country for adoption.

U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia Christopher Kavanaugh, whose office prosecuted the case, said Monday after a plea hearing in federal court in Charlottesville that Envigo and Inotiv “put profits first and convenience rather than compliance with the law.”

He said the company generated $16 million in revenue between 2019 and May 2022, the date of the research, from the sale of 15,000 beagles during that period.

Former president and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump leaves New York State Supreme Court Thursday, April 25, 2024, during his trial for allegedly falsifying business records.  (Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

But he said the company had refused to make the necessary investments to provide basic care for the animals. Cages were cleaned twice a month rather than daily as needed. The animals were euthanized, in particular by direct injections into the heart, without sedation, he said. Dogs were regularly injured by getting their paws stuck in a floor made of metal grates that left room for the paws to easily fall. Food and water were lacking and unclean

Court records show 300 puppies died over a seven-month period around 2021 for what were described as “unknown causes.”

He said the company continued to employ a veterinarian who botched surgeries and oversaw numerous violations because executives thought it would be too difficult to find a replacement.

Todd Kim, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, said Envigo “enriched itself illegally by not spending the money needed for upgrades and by not hiring enough trained and competent staff.”

The Cumberland plant, which employed nearly 40 people, was closed. Kavanaugh said he was severely understaffed to care for thousands of dogs.

The plea agreement calls for an $11 million fine for violating the Animal Welfare Act and an $11 million fine for violating the Clean Water Act. The agreement also requires Inotiv to spend $7 million over the next three years to improve its facilities and meet standards that exceed the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act.

The plea agreement includes an admission that Envigo violated the Clean Water Act by discharging hundreds of thousands of gallons of improperly treated wastewater.

It also includes $3.5 million for environmental repairs in Cumberland County and requires the company to pay the costs of a compliance monitor during its probation period, which will last three to five years.

The plea agreement also requires the companies to pay approximately $1.9 million to the Humane Society of the United States for assistance it provided in the investigation.

Prosecutors also said their investigation was ongoing and criminal charges against individual employees remained possible.

West Lafayette, Indiana-based Inotiv issued what it called a “statement of contrition” Monday after the plea hearing.

“By committing the crimes identified in the charging document, and by failing to make necessary infrastructure improvements and hire required staff, we failed to meet our animal and environmental welfare standards and we apologize to the public for the harm caused by our conduct, the company said. “By resolving this issue, we are renewing our commitment to maintaining the highest standards of animal care.”

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News Source : apnews.com

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