Some local residents and an animal-rights group are protesting plans for a monkey-breeding facility in southwest Georgia.
Opponents on Tuesday urged the Bainbridge City Council to block plans by a company called Safer Human Medicine to build a $396 million complex that would eventually hold up to 30,000 long-tailed macaques that would be sold to universities and pharmaceutical companies for medical research. The company says it plans to employ up to 263 workers.
Council members didn’t directly address the concerns Tuesday, WALB-TV reported.
SEE MORE: Why we experiment on animals
Safer Human Medicine is led by executives who formerly worked for two other companies that provide animals for medical testing. One of those companies, Charles River Laboratories, came under investigation last year for obtaining wild monkeys that were smuggled from Cambodia. The monkeys were falsely labeled as bred in captivity, as is required by U.S. rules, federal prosecutors have alleged. The company suspended shipments from Cambodia.
Charles River had proposed a similar facility in Brazoria County, Texas, south of Houston, but it has been stalled by local opposition.
The Bainbridge facility would provide a domestic source of monkeys to offset imports, the company said. Medical researchers use the animals to test drugs before human trials, and to research infectious diseases and chronic conditions like brain disorders.
“In the aftermath of the pandemic, we learned the hard way that our researchers in the U.S. need reliable access to healthy primates to develop and evaluate the safety of potentially life-saving drugs and therapies for you, your family, your friends, and neighbors,” Safer Human Medicine wrote in an open letter to the Bainbridge community. “Many of the medicines in your medical cabinets today would not exist without this essential medical research and without these primates, research comes to a halt.”
But People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and some local residents say they fear the possibility of monkeys escaping into the community along with other harms.
“They’re an invasive species and 30,000 of them, we’d just be overrun with monkeys,” Ted Lee, a local resident, told WALB-TV.
Lisa Jones-Engel, PETA’s science adviser on primate experimentation, said there’s a risk that local people will be exposed to pathogens and diseases.
“In a bid to attract a few jobs — many of them low-paying and risking exposure to zoonotic diseases — city and county officials have rolled out the red carpet for an unethical plan by some questionable characters that could spell ecological disaster and potentially spark the next pandemic,” Jones-Engel said in a statement last week.
“PETA urges Bainbridge officials to withdraw their support and shut down this project before a shovel hits the dirt," she wrote.
The company and local officials said the nonprofit and community's concerns are baseless. Rick McCaskill, executive director of the Development Authority of Bainbridge & Decatur County, said risks are low because veterinarians and trained staff will be working with the monkeys.
“There are going to be a lot of monkeys, there’s no question. We got more cows in the county then we got people too, and we got more chickens in the county then we have people too,” McCaskill said.
Local officials in December agreed to property tax breaks for the project — waiving them for the first 10 years and then gradually decreasing tax breaks until they end after 20 years.
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