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March 15, 2011

Federal Agencies Petitioned to Investigate Potential Government Fraud at New Iberia Research Center

Government-funded research facility may be breeding chimps despite federal ban

  • A baby chimpanzee photographed by an undercover investigator at the New Iberia Research Center. HSUS

WASHINGTON – The Humane Society of the United States has filed legal petitions with the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services Tuesday requesting investigations and legal actions to halt potential government contract fraud at the New Iberia Research Center, a primate laboratory located in New Iberia, La. and part of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. 

As outlined in the petitions, The HSUS has amassed public records suggesting that NIRC may be breeding federally-owned chimpanzees for use in invasive research in violation of the terms of a multi-million dollar grant agreement between NIRC and a division of the National Institutes of Health called the National Center for Research Resources. NIRC has received the grant annually since 2000, to the tune of more than $10 million.

“This appears to be an open and shut case of government fraud under the federal False Claims Act,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “The Attorney General should investigate this matter, terminate illegal breeding at NIRC, and take legal action to recover any taxpayer monies squandered by this facility.”

Documents obtained by The HSUS demonstrate that during the past 10 years, NIRC has produced at least 123 infant chimpanzees, some of whom were prematurely and cruelly torn away from their mothers. The documents also show that an additional 14 infants died as a result of trauma by adult chimpanzees possibly due to negligent management practices and overcrowding at the NIRC facility. The surviving 123 chimpanzees may languish for the next 50 years or more in laboratories that are totally insufficient to meet their basic needs, while NIRC stands to profit from its breeding program by leasing the young chimpanzees for invasive research. 

Evidence presented in the petition shows that by alleging extensive chimpanzee birth control practices and withholding information about young chimpanzees born at its facility, among other things, NIRC may have misrepresented its breeding program to the NCRR in grant progress reports and application materials. These misrepresentations could be violations of the federal False Claims Act, which could entitle the NCRR to recoup up to $30 million in damages due to the law’s trebling, or tripling provision.

The HSUS is asking the Department of Justice to take enforcement action against the laboratory for fraudulent use of federal money, and is requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services cease funding the laboratory. The HSUS is also requesting that the Department of Health and Human Services immediately send all federally-owned chimpanzees residing at NIRC to permanent sanctuary with appropriate funding.  

The full text of The HSUS’s legal petition to the Department of Justice can be downloaded here. The full text of The HSUS’s legal petition to the Department of Health and Human Services can be downloaded here.  The necropsy reports of the 14 infants who died of traumatic injuries can be found here. B-roll is available to the media upon request.

Facts:

  • There are approximately 1,000 chimpanzees in six laboratories in the United States; approximately 500 of these chimpanzees are owned by the federal government.
  • Under the False Claims Act, the government can collect treble damages for fraud by government contractors, which means that NIRC could be required to pay $30 million for repeatedly violating its grant agreement with NCRR while certifying compliance with the breeding moratorium. 
  • The contract between NIRC and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, titled “Leasing of Chimpanzees for the Conduct of Research,” is for a total of $7.8 million and is scheduled to end in September of next year, but is up for renewal this coming September.
  • Each chimpanzee born into a laboratory can live 60 years and cost the federal government as much as $1 million during his or her lifetime. Seven of the 123 chimpanzees born at NIRC are now owned by, and are the responsibility of, the federal government.
  • The HSUS revealed the results of an undercover investigation conducted at NIRC in 2009, including distress caused by lack of enrichment and socialization, severe psychological distress, and inadequate veterinary care.
  • The National Institutes of Health has announced that the National Academy of Sciences will be conducting a review of the use of chimpanzees for research purposes, further strengthening the argument to immediately stop the flow of new chimpanzees into the laboratory system.

To learn more about chimps in research, visit humanesociety.org/chimps

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