One disease-ridden goat was left in the sun in a pen, unable to walk and unable to reach food or water. Another had a giant tumor the size of a baseball, untreated. A third was suffering so badly that a vet asked for it to be put to death, but the company didn't get around to doing it for a month.
Those are the claims made Monday in Santa Cruz by Michael Budkie, executive director of the nonprofit, Ohio-based group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, against Santa Cruz Biotech, at 2145 Delaware Ave. They weren't just claims he was making—they were found in reports by inspectors from the USDA, which is supposed to monitor the treatment of animals, even those used in research.
"If a private individual allowed an animal to suffer like this, they would be in jail," said Budkie. "That's one of the problems with this system. Places like Santa Cruz Biotech essentially get a free pass. They're allowed to cause animals to suffer for an extended period of time."
The company didn't return repeated phone calls for comment.
A representative with the USDA, Lyndsay Cole, said the agency reinspected the center April 5 and would have results available Tuesday.
Budkie documented tragic cases of suffering animals, which are public record and available at the USDA's site here. At one point, he said, there were 178 animals with serious illnesses, which, he added, might be expected if the company was testing for diseases. However, he claimed, it is in the business of breeding antibodies in animals and shipping them to other labs for testing, so is more of an animal dealer, which falls under more strict regulation.
Regardless, he said, the fines charged by the USDA are so minimal that companies write them off as business expenses.
"It's like if you were speeding and got a $3 ticket. Would you care?"
In a letter to Robert Gibbens, the western regional director for the USDA, Budkie asked for the company to be fined $240,000, or $10,000 per infraction per animal.
One of the violations was a failure to train staff to deal with animals. That was what the company said was the reason the goat was left in the sun to suffer. This was listed as a repeat offense by the USDA inspectors. The company also failed to monitor animals and keep track of their health in written reports.
The company, according to its website, is the leading supplier of antibodies, antibody support products, gene silencers, biochemicals, buffers, lab reagents and labware. It keeps 8,700 rabbits and 8,800 goats, according to Budkie.
It is owned by John and Brenda Stephenson, who also have a 200-acre ranch, on which they keep the animals, which caused community debate over whether the land was being used for agriculture or research, and whether the growing of antibodies was the same as growing crops.
The company has 190 employees in Paso Robles, Sun Valley, ID and Heidelberg, Germany.