Wanted: Doggie Compliance Monitor

This could be the dream job for compliance professionals who love animals! An animal breeding business in Virginia is paying $35 million to settle charges that it mistreated thousands of beagles in its care, and must hire a compliance monitor to oversee its improved animal welfare compliance program. 

The company in question is Envigo RSM, which these days is a subsidiary of Inotiv, a clinical research business that does about $572 million in revenue annually. Envigo pleaded guilty earlier this week to violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and its sister company Envigo Global Services pleaded guilty to violating the Clean Water Act. 

The backstory is that from July 2021 to May 2022, Envigo racked up dozens of citations from animal welfare inspectors who were visiting its facility in Cumberland, Va. Conditions were so bad, and Envigo had failed to improve them for so long, that in May 2022 prosecutors filed an emergency injunction against the company and took possession of more than 4,000 beagles that had been living under terrible conditions. 

The abuses, described in the plea agreement with Envigo, are pretty terrible stuff. Dogs were denied food, or fed food infested with maggots and feces; dogs were overcrowded, which led to injuries as dogs fought among themselves. Some dogs were euthanized unnecessarily, when they could have been fine with minor medical treatment. Other dogs were euthanized without anesthesia, where employees just jabbed fatal poison directly into the dog’s heart. We could go on but you get the picture.

Making matters even worse, the Envigo sister company violated the Clean Water Act by failing to operate a wastewater treatment plant at the Cumberland breeding facility properly, “which led to massive unlawful discharges of insufficiently treated wastewater into a local waterway,” prosecutors said. Translation: they were dumping dog poop into the water. 

Big Penalties and Remediation

That brings us to the settlement reached earlier this week. It includes an $11 million criminal penalty for violating the Animal Welfare Act (largest penalty in the law’s history), $11 million criminal penalty for violating the Clean Water Act, and another $13.5 million that will go to support various animal welfare projects. 

Envigo will also be on probation for three to five years, depending on the company’s progress at improving its operations; and its monitorship will run concurrently with the probation period. (So the monitorship will also run three to five years depending on the company’s progress.)

About that yet-to-be-appointed compliance monitor: Envigo must recommend three names to the Justice Department by June 24, and that person must have relevant experience and knowledge in animal welfare and environmental laws. He or she will then make reports to the Justice Department every six months about Envigo’s progress on its compliance plan.

The compliance plan itself is extensive. Among other things, Inotiv (Envigo’s parent company) must: 

  • Appoint a chief compliance officer, who will report directly to the CEO. The agreement doesn’t expressly say the CCO cannot also be the general counsel, but that separation of roles does seem to be the clear intention.
  • Maintain an in-house compliance committee, which must include the CCO and “other members of senior management necessary” to fulfill the compliance plan. 
  • Maintain an internal reporting system for all employees, and “acknowledge or otherwise recognize” employees when they report confirmed compliance violations.
  • Strengthen procedures for internal investigations, which must include ways to track allegations and progress on remediation plans for incidents of non-compliance. 

Envigo itself must also adhere to even more specific, higher standards of animal care across all its facilities. The compliance monitor will oversee fulfillment of those terms too, including with in-person inspection visits to all Envigo locations within three years. 

All of that is fairly standard stuff for a company settling legal violations, except for that detail about acknowledging employees when they report confirmed incidents of misconduct. Like, in the employee newsletter or a shout-out from the CEO at the next employee all-hands meeting? The settlement doesn’t say, but it is a great idea. One hopes the Justice Department will impose that requirement more often. 

Fixing a Doggone Mess

Inotiv, which mostly inherited this mess with its purchase of Envigo in November 2021, has taken numerous steps to repair the damage here. The company closed the troubled Cumberland facility in September 2022, and as part of this week’s settlement has agreed never to breed or sell dogs again. 

Inotiv published a “Statement of Contrition” on its website earlier this week that declared: “In committing the crimes identified in the charging document, and by not making the necessary infrastructure upgrades and hiring the requisite staff, we fell short of our standards for animal and environmental welfare and apologize to the public for the harm caused by our conduct.” The company also published a list of its animal welfare principles on another section of its website, which included a timeline of how the Cumberland misconduct happened and was resolved. 

Those are all good specific gestures to demonstrate what Inotiv’s ethical priorities are. Now comes the question of whether it can live up to those principles, both under the close oversight of a compliance monitor and for the long term after that monitorship expires. One can hope.

Let’s end today’s post with an emotional palette cleanser from the Humane Society of the United States, which posted a video of Envigo’s abused beagles enjoying the good life after they had been rescued.

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