The other night on Fox News, Tucker Carlson shone a light on an important and underreported story regarding the use of animals in research.
I am not being facetious.
The primetime cable bloviator demonstrated a shallow understanding of his subject, engaged in unnecessary hyperbole, and was clearly motivated by bad intentions—to further demonize one of the right’s biggest bogeymen, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.
But Carlson and his guest, Daphna Nachminovitch, a senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), were on firm ground in decrying a dog-breeding and research facility in Virginia that is being forced to relinquish all of its 4,000 beagles because of scores of violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
This shutdown was ordered by a federal court in the Western District of Virginia after the U.S. Justice Department brought an enforcement action based on violations flagged by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which conducted inspections over a nine-month period that largely affirmed the grim findings of a 2021 probe by PETA. The order is part of a settlement between the Justice Department and Envigo that allows the latter to avoid admitting “liability for violations asserted in the government’s complaint.”
“We’re just so thrilled that PETA’s undercover investigation prompted this domino effect that resulted not only in 74 violations and the Department of Justice getting involved, but the liberation of these 4,000 dogs,” said Nachminovitch. The beagles are being relinquished to the nonprofit Humane Society of the United States, which is working to find new homes for them by early September. As she put it, “They will all have the opportunity to find a loving home, to feel the grass under their paws, the sun on their back, play with a toy, and have a name—things that they have not had the chance to experience thus far.”
Carlson began the segment by proclaiming that “about 4,000 beagles . . . were slated to be tortured for no real reason at a research facility in Virginia,” then ratcheted this up into a claim that they would be tortured to death.
The truth is that dogs raised for research are used in experiments that run the gamut from relatively noninvasive to ones that involve varying degrees of pain and/or end in euthanasia.
But Carlson and his guest were right to paint a grim picture of the Virginia facility, which the federal government took steps to shut down. According to a July 12 article in the New York Times:
Several inspections of the Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Va., over the past two years found dozens of violations of federal regulations, leaving the beagles underfed, ill, injured and, in some cases, dead. On May 18, the U.S.D.A. inspector general and other law enforcement agencies executed a federal search warrant of the facility and seized 145 dogs and puppies determined by veterinarians to be in “acute distress.”
The day after the warrant was executed, U.S. officials filed a 40-page complaint against Envigo in federal court in the Western District of Virginia. This document contains a number of shocking allegations, including that beagles were housed in unsanitary enclosures, poorly cared for, and euthanized or allowed to die from malnutrition and other preventable and treatable conditions. During one seven-month period, some 300 beagle puppies died at the facility due to “unknown causes.”
Inspectors came across an adult female beagle whose paw was caught in the flooring of her enclosure for so long that she was dehydrated. In one set of buildings, they found “large quantities of feces, urine, standing water, dead and live insects, and uneaten food under the raised indoor and outdoor kennel floors.”
“Envigo’s disregard for the law and the welfare of the beagles in its care has resulted in the animals’ needless suffering and, in some cases, death,” the complaint stated. It asked for an injunction “to prevent and restrain Envigo from operating in violation of the AWA.”
Two days later, on May 21, senior U.S. District Court Judge Norman K. Moon granted a temporary restraining order calling on Envigo to “immediately cease breeding, selling, or otherwise dealing in beagles” until it is in compliance with the law. This led to a plan for the facility to turn over its 4,000 beagles to the Humane Society of the United States, to make them available for adoption. It calls for Envigo to pay the group $100 per day per dog, and $150 per day for females nursing litters eight weeks or younger, to cover the costs of temporary shelter.
Initially, Judge Moon, who was put on the bench by President Bill Clinton, agreed to allow Envigo to fulfill existing contracts for the sales of some 500 dogs, but he later reversed himself and ordered the company to relinquish all of its animals.
Tucker Carlson may be genuinely appalled, as everyone should be, by the things that happen to animals at breeding facilities and research labs. But it is fair to note that his interest in the Envigo facility has much to do with his incendiary claim that it produced dogs for Fauci and his NIH colleagues to torture to death.
His segment last Friday night, posted online under the title “Beagles freed from Dr. Fauci’s testing lab,” states that the longtime head of NIH’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases “purchased dogs from that facility” that were “used in septic shock experiments at NIH” and “denied food and eaten alive by bugs,” among other horrors.
Fauci’s NIH division “greenlit tests in which experimenters drugged beagle puppies and locked their heads in cages filled with hungry, infected sandflies,” according to a blog post published by PETA last October. It notes that the agency is “now denying that it funded the study,” claiming that a journal that credited it with doing so was wrong. (The journal has since issued both a correction claiming that the researchers “received no specific funding for this work” and a publisher’s note that states, “The US National Institutes of Health and the Wellcome Trust did not provide any funding for this research and any such claim was made in error.”)
PETA, in response, demanded that NIH produce evidence to back up this claim that it did not fund the study. But PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo says in an email that the agency has not answered PETA’s questions, nor has it responded to the group’s Freedom of Information Act request for the underlying documents.
“They’ve never provided any evidence that it was a mistake,” says Justin Goodman, senior vice president of White Coat Waste Project, the anti-animal-research group that first identified the sandfly study, which Carlson covered in a segment last October. The group says it has learned through FOIA requests that one National Institutes of Health lab “has purchased over seven dozen beagles from Envigo since 2019 alone, some as young as one year old, at a cost to taxpayers of between $1,000 and $1,500 per dog.”
In a press release following the announcement that Envigo is being put out of business, PETA identifies a number of other studies involving the use of beagles from the facility which involved “horrific torment.” It gives three examples, which Guillermo says were all “supported at least in part by NIH grants.” This is how the experiments were described:
In one test, experimenters cut incisions in beagles’ heads, drilled holes into their skulls, and injected a chemical solution into their brains. Some dogs were killed immediately, while others were kept alive for six weeks and then killed. In another study, beagle puppies were infected with staph bacteria, causing them to experience multi-organ failure, sepsis, severe shock, and death. In another study, experimenters damaged the bladders of puppies by using a pump to fill their bladders, inserted catheters into their rectums, cut into their abdomens to attach electrodes, and then severed their spinal cords.
This February, in response to reports of problems at the Envigo facility, Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia and six other Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which oversees the use of animals in research. The representatives complain about the agency’s failure up to that point to bring an enforcement action against Envigo despite the serious problems its own staff had flagged in several rounds of inspections.
“This lack of timely follow-through is not what Congress intended when it entrusted APHIS with investigating these violations of federal law,” the letter said.
This sentiment was seconded the following month in a letter to APHIS from Virginia’s two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, calling for the immediate suspension of Envigo’s license for its “persistent and egregious violations” of the Animal Welfare Act.
PETA’s 2021 undercover investigation documented stomach-turning atrocities at Envigo, including a video of a beagle puppy yelping piteously as a “supervisor with no veterinary training” inserts a needle into its head, with no anesthetics, in “a crude attempt to drain fluid from a wound.” The group’s video report shows cage after cage of dogs packed tightly together with “no beds, no toys, no stimulation, no real lives.” The clip concludes, “These dogs should live as all dogs deserve to—in loving homes.”
Now it looks as though that is going to happen.
According to PETA, the Virginia facility has been in operation for more than fifty years under various owners. Envigo was acquired last year by Inotiv, a pharmaceutical development company. Inotiv has said the soon-to-be-shuttered facility accounts for less than 1 percent of its total revenue.
On Carlson’s show last Friday, Nachminovitch stressed that any celebration over the closure of the Envigo facility should be tempered by the fact that there remain many other facilities that produce animals for research. These include an even larger facility in New York that “has, believe it or not, 21,000 beagles.” All such facilities, the group believes, ought to be shut down and the experiments they are used in replaced with more effective methodologies that do not involve the use of animals. And it welcomes the support it receives from folks like Carlson.
“Animal rights is a bi-partisan issue, fortunately, and we have much support on both sides of the aisle,” Guillermo explains. “PETA and Tucker Carlson agree that the National Institutes of Health is wasting taxpayer funds on outdated animal studies when studies show that animal experiments are failing to lead to cures and treatments for humans. And Mr. Carlson, like PETA, loves dogs.”
There is another side to this issue, with some scientists defending even painful and fatal experiments on animals as being necessary for research that could potentially save human lives. But there can be no question that shutting down the Envigo facility was the right thing to do, given its deplorable record of disregard for the Animal Welfare Act.
And for that, we have the Biden administration, Democratic members of Congress, a federal judge nominated by a Democrat—and, why not, Tucker Carlson—to thank.