Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Inside Nafovanny

Posted: 15 July 2009. Updated: 15 July 2009


The squalid reality of European laboratory primate supply

In the year up to June 2008, at least 476 monkeys were supplied to HLS by Nafovanny in Vietnam.

In November 2008, a team of ADI Field Officers went to Vietnam to investigate the facility and its offices in Hong Kong. We put to the test claims by HLS that the animals they receive are bred in the “best conditions” and what the Home Office describe as “acceptable welfare standards.”

We found factory farm conditions, dilapidated rusting cages, and breeding stocks snatched from the wild. This is the shameful reality of where European laboratory monkeys come from.

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. The monkeys originate from two large facilities in Long Thanh, Vietnam a few miles outside Ho Chi Minh city.

The two monkey farms are like fortresses with towering walls topped with barbed wire and the main gates have a constant security presence. Vistors are not welcome. Yet, once through the main gates, the facilities appear almost welcoming, with neat whitewashed buildings housing the offices. But things start to deteriorate sharply once you get to where the monkeys are forced to live.

Most monkeys are group housed in small pens made from chain link fencing. These are about 2 or 3 metres square, with a concrete floor and virtually nothing to interest the monkeys, who rush up to and hang on the cage front whenever anyone approaches.

However, venturing deeper into the complex, things are even worse. In one section we found adult monkeys living in isolation in small rusting cages. These were under one metre high, little taller than the monkey itself when standing upright, and less than a metre wide.

The bare cages had solid metal back and sides with metal mesh tops, they were raised off the ground, on short legs. 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.

Yet this site was inspected by the UK Home Office in early 2008. Furthermore, Brian Cass, Managing Director of HLS claimed in February 2009: “[We]… spend a lot of time and a lot of money in trying to ensure the best conditions for our primates. Whether that’s the best conditions where they are bred, in their transport and indeed the way they are housed in our laboratory.”

These are some of the worst conditions we have ever seen. Are the Home Office and HLS welfare standards really this low? Or did they simply think no one would check?

Most of the breeding monkeys we saw at Nafovanny (and indeed in almost all the Asian monkey dealers supplying European labs) are snatched from the wild. They once roamed free only to be torn from the trees and forced to live for years in these dismal prisons.

Their offspring are known as F1 – first generation monkeys born of wild-caught parents.

When the dealers need more monkeys they can get them free from the forests. They want more females than males for their factory farms, so are likely to cause great suffering and environmental damage to the wild populations that they are violently destabilising. Whether the trappers are catching and killing or releasing unwanted males, the balance of the wild population will be severely damaged.

Governments, regulators and laboratories like to give the impression that they avoid use of wild caught monkeys, but it appears that they have been happy to turn a blind eye to how the suppliers obtain their breeding stock to produce the F1 babies, the conditions in which they keep their primates, and the damage to wild populations. By using F1 primates Europe’s labs are supporting wild capture ­– they just let the dealers do the dirty work.

The European Commission has proposed that the use of F1 primates be phased out over seven years. Dealers like Nafovanny would have to steadily replace breeding stock with captive bred rather than wild animals. Disgracefully, the drug industry and animal laboratory lobbyists persuaded MEPs to delay these proposals indefinitely. The result is cheap monkeys for Europe at a massive welfare and conservation cost.

You can be sure that in the coming months, we will be fighting for the Commission’s proposals to be supported by the UK at the Council of Ministers.

From Vietnam to the UK
We monitored eight deliveries of 60 monkeys at a time from Nafovanny to HLS via the shadowy supply company Belgrave Services - which operates from unit J06 at HLS. Typically, the monkeys travel by road from Nafovanny 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. This is typical of the journey endured by almost all the thousands of macaque monkeys being imported into Europe for experimentation. It is known that cynomolgus macaques react badly to transport.

Monkeys arrived at HLS after midnight, in individual compartments in rectangular wooden crates with a handle at each end. These compartments did not allow the animals to stand upright. On arrival most monkeys were frightened and cowered at the back of the box, they were unloaded and released into gang cages in the J06 stock building. Injuries and illness related to the journey included: high temperature and weight loss; abrasions to heads and faces; the study notes for BVR0963 noted that one monkey arrived with bruising and a swollen orbital; 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 ten minutes every other day; it was claimed the animal had arrived in that condition.

Home Office Approved
The Nafovanny facility in which we filmed is approved by the UK Home Office as an official laboratory monkey supplier.
In 2005 the Home Office stated “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”, and: “In effect we will only allow the use of animals from overseas centres we believe produce purpose-bred animals to acceptable welfare standards”.

In March 2005 an inspection of the Nafovanny facility in Long Thanh 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. Tough words to reassure MPs and the public.

By the end of 2005 however, the Home Office had received “reassurances and evidence that significant improvements had been made”, and concluded that Nafovanny could meet the required standard. Permission was given for them to continue to supply to the UK.

The evidence upon which this decision was based, was “unedited video footage, photographs and reports”. But the Home Office didn’t check and in 2007, it was confirmed that the site had not been visited since the March 2005 inspection.

In March this year, we met with Home Office officials and handed in formal complaints concerning Nafovanny and Huntingdon Life Sciences. We learned that Home Office inspectors had in fact visited Nafovanny just months before our team and saw no problems. Officials have undertaken to look at our evidence and may visit Nafovanny later this year. They may also take action if a UK lab orders more monkeys from Nafovanny.

It is nothing short of disgraceful if the conditions we observed are “acceptable welfare standards” to the Home Office (HO). However a curious twist is that the HO maintain that the monkeys approved for the UK are kept in facilities similar to UK standards (we did not see any of these ‘lucky’ monkeys on our visit).

So effectively, provided monkeys coming into the UK are in acceptable cages the HO will ignore the deplorable conditions of all of the others. Not exactly the high standards the public is led to believe are maintained by the UK.

We are calling for the UK supplier licence for Nafovanny to be withdrawn.

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