Georgia residents fight efforts to build massive monkey breeding center in their city

Residents have expressed concerns about the facility itself that monkeys could escape – something that has sometimes happened at other facilities in the United States, including one run by Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, but no harm was reported to nearby residents.

“We’re dealing with a jungle: noise, stench and disease risk,” said Penny Reynolds, who lives across the street from the land set aside for the Bainbridge facility.

Safer Human Medicine assured residents that it would take every precaution to ensure that all waste would be contained within its facilities and sent to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. He also said most of the noise would remain inside the facility and there would be no “noticeable odor.”

Greg Westergaard, CEO of monkey breeder Alpha Genesis, says creating monkey breeding facilities requires a lot of resources.

“It takes a lot of training; There’s a huge amount of infrastructure involved,” he said. “It’s going to smell bad and you’re going to have runoff from cleaning. »

Bainbridge residents pointed to the track records of some Safer Human Medicine executives — two of whom previously held executive positions at companies facing increased scrutiny — as reasons to doubt their commitment.

Jim Harkness, CEO of Safer Human Medicine, was the chief operating officer of Envigo, a company that pleaded guilty last week to neglecting thousands of dogs and agreed to pay a record $35 million fine. Chief Operating Officer Kurt Derfler left his job at Charles River Laboratories last year, just months after the Justice Department subpoenaed him in its investigation into possible drug smuggling. wild monkeys from Cambodia. Charles River Laboratories said at the time that any concerns about its role were “unfounded.”

Neither Harkness nor Derfler have been charged individually in connection with these cases.

Interview requests for safer human medicine were declined. He said via email: “Envigo was operating under unprecedented circumstances brought on by the pandemic. » He adds: “We have been committed to acting responsibly and ethically for decades in this area and we will continue to do so. »

A long-tailed macaque, also called a cynomolgus macaque, climbs a pole in Indonesia in 2023.Chaideer Mahyuddin / AFP via Getty Images file

Safer Human Medicine said it would not use wild-caught macaques, which can carry viruses like herpes B. The macaques would come from Asia, it said, without specifying where from. .

The Bainbridge community organization got things moving. Rick McCaskill, executive director of the Bainbridge and Decatur County Development Authority, said what was once touted as a “huge investment” of nearly $400 million and the creation of 260 jobs quickly turned into a disaster. vinegar. After backlash from the community, Bainbridge leaders voted in February to rescind their support for the Safer Human Medicine Project.

“We felt like the divisions and unrest in the community outweighed the benefits of the project,” McCaskill said.

Research monkeys are bred at the seven National Primate Research Centers, each with its own breeding colony, as well as other facilities across the country. National primate research centers often use rhesus macaques, while pharmaceutical companies tend to use long-tailed macaques – the type of macaques that Safer Human Medicine plans to breed.

There has been some movement away from animal testing for drug development, which was once required by the United States. In 2022, President Joe Biden signed the FDA Modernization Act 2.0, allowing animal-based alternatives where possible. This year, several members of Congress introduced a bill to go further and make it easier to abandon animal research.

“It will likely be a mix of alternatives, from AI to computer models to organs-on-a-chip,” said Jim Newman, communications director for Americans for Medical Progress, a group that advocates for medical tests on animals when necessary. “But what we have now can only reduce the number of animals by a certain amount.”

An artist's rendering of a planned monkey enclosure in Bainbridge, Georgia.
An artist’s rendering of a planned monkey enclosure in Bainbridge, Georgia.Safer human medicine

For now, researchers still rely on monkeys for some tests, and some animal researchers say the U.S. is experiencing a shortage of long-tailed macaques — reporting a decline of more than 20 percent. of imports in 2020 after China halted exports. Long-tailed macaque prices are said to be skyrocketing.

Safer Human Medicine says it views the planned facility as a response to the shortage. The company said it would start with 500 to 1,000 monkeys and then expand on a larger scale. He said the money to build the facility would come from industry and private funding in the United States. He would not share his names.

It’s unclear how opposed the community is to the facility. Some local politicians who campaigned against them did not win in recent elections, although it is not clear whether their defeats had anything to do with those positions.

Still, Faircloth said his group has no plans to back down.

“If we don’t stand up for our rights, we’re just going to be overthrown,” she said. “We just can’t let this happen.”

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