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Primate testing in Europe

Suppliers and Travel

Source of the HLS monkeys

Our investigator understood that HLS itself does not hold a Certificate of Designation to supply animals, but uses a company based on its premises, Belgrave Services, to import monkeys[21]. We were unable to find any record of this company with the Registrar of Companies, although it is cited on a US import document. Belgrave operates one of the buildings on the site, J06, where new deliveries of monkeys arrive. The Head of Department stated that Belgrave Services supplied other laboratories in Spain[24] as well as Inveresk Research, in Scotland. HLS Chief Executive Brian Cass referred to the building as a “stock colony”, and expressed the hope that HLS would expand its primate use by 80%, whilst actively looking for new suppliers[25].

The Head of Primate Toxicology informed the investigator that HLS monkeys arrived from Vietnam, China, and Mauritius[26]. During the period of the investigation, the monkeys were supplied by Nafovanny in Vietnam via Belgrave Services[27]. This included at least eight deliveries of monkeys that were, on average, two years of age (therefore juveniles):

12.06.07 – 56 Monkeys
31.07.07 – 60 Monkeys
21.08.07 – 60 Monkeys
18.12.07 – 60 Monkeys
15.01.08 – 60 Monkeys
22.01.08 – 60 Monkeys
11.03.08 – 60 Monkeys
20.05.08 – 60 Monkeys

Typically, the monkeys travel by road from Nafovanny in Long Than to Ho Chi Minh City, they are then flown to France where a freight company forwards them by road to HLS in Cambridgeshire. Personnel at HLS understood the journey to take about 30 hours[28], which is typical of the journey endured by almost all macaque monkeys being imported into Europe for experimentation. It is clearly a long, arduous journey in extreme confinement, and stressful for the animals. A study of transport of laboratory primates found “Total journey times to the UK are typically around 30 hours and, in some cases, exceed 70 hours”[29].

It is known that cynomolgus macaques react badly to transport. A review of studies in the journal Laboratory Animal noted that the cynomolgus macaque ”is the type which most frequently has to undergo transportation, yet it is possibly the macaque species least able to respond satisfactorily to it”[30].

Monkeys arrived at HLS after midnight, in individual compartments in rectangular wooden crates with a handle at each end. The individual monkey compartments did not allow the animals to stand upright[31]. On arrival most monkeys were frightened and cowered at the back of the box[32], they were unloaded and released into gang cages in the J06 stock building (although on at least one occasion they were taken straight into the M12 main testing unit[33]). In the following days the animals were caught, weighed, health checked, bled for herpes B virus testing and injected with tuberculin just above the eye[34]. Unwanted animals would remain in this unit for some months before being euthanised[35].

Observations of injuries and illness related to the journey included: high temperature and weight loss[36]; abrasions to heads and faces[37]; the study notes for BVR0963 noted that one monkey arrived with bruising and a swollen orbital[38]; a monkey in the stock building had skin looking sore and flaking off badly, requiring its feet and tail to be bathed in Malaseb for 10 minutes every other day; it was claimed the animal had arrived in that condition[39].

The supplier: Nafovanny, Vietnam

In addition to the arduous journey made by every monkey before it reaches HLS for experimentation, consideration must be given to the matter of how these animals are cared for at the supply source and what welfare standards, if any, can be imposed on a foreign supplier.

HLS falls under the jurisdiction of the Home Office with Designated Establishment Certificates and Project Licences issued in accordance with the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA). Belgrave Services, operating from building J06, should hold a certificate of designation as a supplier.

However, the monkey supplier Nafovanny, is outside of Home Office jurisdiction. As the UK’s Animal Procedures Committee has noted: “An overseas primate breeding and supplying centre cannot be a ‘designated establishment’ in the same way as they would in the UK, because they are outside the UK’s jurisdiction” [40]. “The inspectorate has no jurisdiction outside the UK, and therefore, where animals are supplied from outside the UK, any site visits by the Inspectorate depends on negotiation and cooperation”[41].

The 2005 report of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Inspectorate Report (ASPI) states that “before primates can be acquired from an overseas breeding centre it is necessary for the Home Office to have appraised and accepted the use of that centre in order to ensure compliance with the section of the Home Office Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals in designated Breeding and Supplying Establishments (1995 HC 125) pertaining to the import of primates”[42].

Nafovanny was formed to export macaque monkeys for experiments, as a joint venture between the Vanny Group of Hong Kong and Naforibird Company of Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam[43]. The monkeys originate from two large facilities in Long Thanh, Vietnam.

In November 2008, we filmed monkeys inside Nafovanny living in deplorable conditions. Some were housed in isolation in small cages under one metre high, little taller than the monkey itself, when standing upright. The bare cages had solid metal sides and backs and metal mesh tops, and stood on short legs, raised off the ground. Several cages were in a state of collapse – leaning at extreme angles, forwards, backwards or to one side – with monkeys living inside them. Several hundred monkeys were in these cages, spanning the rear of the main site in Long Thanh. Other units we observed provided group housing, but were small and lacked enrichment.

In 2005, the UK Home Office stated: “In effect we will only allow the use of animals from overseas centres we believe produce purpose-bred animals to acceptable welfare standards”, and in March that year the ASPI visited the Nafovanny facility in Long Thanh[44]. The visit identified “shortcomings in animal accommodation and care”, and the centre was notified that, “its status as an approved centre would cease” once all existing orders for primates had been filled. By the end of 2005, however, the Home Office had received “reassurances and evidence that significant improvements had been made”. This led the Home Office to believe that Nafovanny should, in future, be able to meet the expected standards, but they issues the caveat that if the centre wished to supply more animals to the UK “we will visit the relevant facilities”[45]. The Home Office later stated that this evidence came in the form of “unedited video footage, photographs and reports”[46]. In 2007, it was confirmed that the site had not been visited since March 2005[47].

Our footage from November 2008 indicates that the Home Office is unable to raise the standards of foreign suppliers to an acceptable level.

It is extremely difficult for governments to control standards of welfare for the thousands of monkeys that pour into European laboratories each year. Any government assertions that foreign suppliers will not receive designated supplier status unless they can meet modern scientific and welfare standards, are really more of a public relations exercise than measures of control.

The primate environment and animal welfare at Huntingdon Life Sciences


The primates used at HLS Huntingdon during this investigation were cynomolgus macaques (also known as crab eating macaques)[48]. These are the most commonly used monkeys in commercial testing in Europe. The laboratory has a capacity for 550 monkeys but hopes to increase this to 700 or more[26,49]. On arrival the monkeys are placed in unit J06, operated by Belgrave Services, although HLS staff were also employed in this unit. The monkeys would then be moved to the HLS unit M12 for experimentation[50].

Unit J06

Referred to by Chief Executive Brian Cass as the “stock colony”, animals arrived here from Vietnam[51]. There are 14 gang cages with a capacity for 15 monkeys each, providing a capacity for up to 210 animals[50,52].

A wide walkway runs down the centre of the room with small ‘catching’ cages on either side. Approximately, 2.13m high x 1.22m wide, these are constructed from metal bars with solid dividers between each cage, and a small sliding door through which monkeys can be removed [52].

Behind each catching cage, connected by a small, closable port, are slightly larger gang cages housing up to 15 monkeys. These have shelves for perching, and limited toys had been provided [52].

To catch animals, a worker enters the cage and chases the animals into the catching cage[52].

Unit M12

This is the main primate testing building with a range of different caging:
Teversham Type: Approximately 1.22m x 0.91m x 0.91m with a single horizontal perch. Side and rear are solid and the rear wall can be pulled forward to crush the monkey to the front bars. The cages are stacked two high. The sides can be removed so that the monkeys have access to the next cage and usually live in groups of three [21].

ArrowMight Type: These cages are integrated into the room, on either side of a walkway. A maximum of four monkeys live in a cage with a tarmac-like floor divided into two sections; a tall cage approx. 2.44m x 1.22m with a shelf to perch and a door for laboratory personnel; the second section includes a metal back that can be pulled forward to crush the monkeys to the front for capture [21].

Gang Type: A walkway runs down the centre of the unit with cages on either side formed by thick metal bars running from floor to ceiling. This has a tarmac floor and allows the monkeys to live together. There are a small number of pipes, bamboo poles and toys in the cage for the monkeys to play with [21].

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