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Federal officials have recently subpoenaed top animal welfare officials at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) as part of a criminal investigation into Envigo, a major animal research breeder in the United States. Despite repeated documentation of the mistreatment of thousands of beagles, the USDA failed to take any action against the company. The investigation seeks to establish why the USDA failed to act against Envigo and why the agency was excluded from the May 2022 search of Envigo’s Cumberland, Virginia facility.

Between July 2021 and March 2022, inspectors documented over 60 violations at the facility, including dangerous flooring, a failure to provide veterinary care, unsanitary conditions, and euthanizing dogs without anesthesia. Despite finding direct violations, the USDA failed to follow up within 14 days, as required by APHIS policy.

The investigation has shed light on the sharp divide between top officials and inspectors over how to handle the violations at the Envigo facility over a period of months. Inspectors wanted the USDA to take a tougher stance against the company for the mistreatment of the beagles.

The subpoenas and the nature of the questions show that prosecutors are also investigating possible wrongdoing by APHIS leaders, including Dr. Elizabeth Goldentyer and Dr. Robert Gibbens, who were ordered to appear before a grand jury in the Western District of Virginia as part of the criminal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

The investigation has also uncovered the high degree of tension and internal strife within the USDA over the handling of the Envigo case. In one instance, a 107-page report from a third inspection in November 2021 was rescinded by APHIS managers, who ordered the inspection team to edit it down to 22 pages. While the final public report contains the same citations as the 107-page draft, it is missing many of the details to back them up.

Animal rights activists have expressed concerns about the USDA’s failure to enforce animal welfare regulations, especially in cases where direct violations were documented. Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior vice president at PETA, has called for APHIS to be held accountable for its failure to enforce the law.

As consumers, we can play a role in ensuring that animals are treated humanely by supporting companies that prioritize animal welfare in their research practices. We can also advocate for stronger animal welfare regulations and Support organizations that work towards protecting animals from cruelty and mistreatment.

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