An animal testing laboratory in Germany that subjected monkeys to “barbaric” treatment and kept unwell dogs in squalid conditions is under investigation amid calls for its closure.
Undercover footage at the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology (LPT) near Hamburg published by Cruelty Free International and Soko Tierschutz shows technicians with metal prongs grabbing macaque monkeys by the neck. The monkeys are restrained by braces during testing. The footage also shows primates being handled “violently” by technicians: in one incident a monkey has its head smacked against a door frame.
Some of the monkeys appeared to be kept alone in metal cages measuring less than a cubic metre and are seen spinning in circles, indicating high levels of distress. They were reportedly forced to stand for long periods. Dogs are pictured laying in what seemed to be their own blood and faeces, with one beagle in a cage appearing to be bleeding. Staff also appeared to mishandle cats.
The footage provoked an angry response from campaigners who said that suffering was clearly not being kept to a minimum, as required by law in many countries.
Kate Willett, of Humane Society US, said the use of restraints was “barbaric” and described the conditions animals were kept in as “appalling”.
“The technicians are treating the animals violently,” she said. “This kind of treatment is ethically insupportable and quite possibly illegal. Each country develops its own animal care guidelines, but dogs housed in these appalling conditions would not be up to the standards of the US or the UK, and it has serious ramifications for the quality of the scientific results.”
Any data collected from the animals would be “virtually useless”, she said, since their physiology would be altered by the stresses they were experiencing.
“It’s time for this type of testing to be relegated to the history bin,” she added. “There are new, non-animal methodologies available for safety testing so to see this type of abuse going on in in the name of science in the 21st century is unforgivable.”
Since 2015, nine inspections have taken place at the facility, seven of which were unannounced. One unannounced visit took place on 8 October when evidence of the abuse was reported to authorities, and another a week later.
Inspectors observed that 44 monkeys were kept “in far too small cages” and reported “long-term harm and considerable suffering”. However, the monkeys were not used in tests during the inspections.
The facility was fined €300 (£260) on one occasion because it introduced new dogs without permission, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, which broke the story. LPT said last Thursday that the authorities had never objected to its “animal husbandry”, according to the paper.
Cruelty Free International said the conditions “clearly breach” minimum EU animal welfare requirements and called for the closure of the facility.
“By failing to adopt methods that could reduce the suffering and stress experienced by the monkeys, dogs and cats, LPT are falling short of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) mandatory under EU and German legislation,” a spokesperson said.
“This cannot be tolerated, and we are calling for this laboratory to be closed and a full investigation by the German authorities.”
Soko, a charity campaigning for animal rights, said the footage demonstrated a “horrendous mixture of suffering and cruelty” and that the practices breached German and EU legislation.
“It is unthinkable that this should be happening in a country that has animal protection in its constitution,” said Soko’s Friedrich Mülln. “We call on the German government to take immediate action to close LPT and to end these cruel and outdated poisoning tests.”
EU directives state that animals which are not naturally solitary should not be individually housed and must be provided with sufficient space to allow for “a wide range of normal behaviour”.
In July the European commission said there were “numerous failings” in German domestic law regarding the minimisation of the number of animals used in experiments and called on the country to “correctly enact” EU directives.
Cruelty Free International said the beagles at the laboratory were bred in the US and exported to Germany. They are understood to have been supplied by one of the major global suppliers of dogs. The primates were bred in China.
The breeding industry that supplies laboratories around the world has faced growing scrutiny as countries have moved to ban animal testing for cosmetic products and other uses. In 2005 it was estimated that about 115m animals had been used in laboratory experiments that year. Most are killed afterwards. In the UK, there are two facilities where the typically docile beagles that are used for research are bred. They are owned by US group Marshall Bioresources.
Although the use of primates and dogs in research is more carefully regulated than it used to be, they are still used regularly. More than 60,000 dogs and 70,000 primates were used in the US alone in 2016.
LPT, which operates the testing facility in Mienenbüttel, near Hamburg, where the company has its headquarters, is one of the largest private laboratories in Germany and employs 175 people. On its website, it claims to work in accordance with national and international guidelines. An animal rights activist who worked there for several months earlier this year recorded the footage.
The facility, which among other functions performs toxicity tests on behalf of pharmaceutical companies to measure safe doses of medication for humans, has long faced protests from animal rights activists. A demonstration is planned locally on Saturday in response to the revelations.
Germany’s agriculture minister, Julia Klöckner, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung last year that the government was committed to adapting German laws to ensure compliance with EU directives and lowering the numbers of animals used. “I want the number of experiments on animals to be continuously reduced,” Klöckner said. “Animals are fellow creatures and they deserve our sympathy.”
In 2014 an undercover investigation at a neuroscience facility in Tübingen owned by the Max Planck Society revealed the “brutal” conditions in which animals were kept and spelled the end for the institute’s controversial monkey brain experiments.
In response to the latest scandal, the local authority said that criminal charges had been lodged with the state prosecutor due to suspected unlawful activity.
A spokesperson said: “The veterinary office responded promptly, after we were informed of the video footage, which indicates significant maladministration in the LPT facility, and carried out a comprehensive and unannounced inspection.
“For this reason, the Harburg district has filed criminal charges with the prosecutor. We regret that animals have suffered as a result of noncompliant husbandry conditions and will consistently remedy all identified grievances … with all legally available means.”
They added: “The challenge for the competent authorities is to examine what is and is not allowed under current legislation on animal testing and animal husbandry.”
A former federal agriculture minister, Renate Künast von den Grünen, a current Bundestag member, told Süddeutsche Zeitung last Friday: “The expertise of those who carry out animal experiments is currently not sufficiently regulated.”
LPT did not respond to a request for comment.