WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) – The top animal care official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury last year as part of a criminal probe into animal researcher breeder Envigo’s abuse of beagles is retiring, according to an internal email seen by Reuters on Monday.
Dr. Betty Goldentyer, a deputy administrator of the animal care program within the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced her plans to step down at the end of April in an email to USDA staff.
Reuters exclusively reported on March 9 that a federal grand jury ordered both Goldentyer and Dr. Robert Gibbens, another top animal care official, to testify last year in the Western District of Virginia. Federal prosecutors questioned them about their management of the Envigo inspections and why they did not act against the company despite repeatedly documenting the mistreatment of thousands of beagles.
Envigo is owned by biopharmaceutical company Inotiv Inc .
APHIS is the regulatory agency responsible for ensuring compliance with federal animal welfare laws at animal facilities across the U.S. from zoos to research facilities.
Goldentyer, who has been with the USDA’s animal care program since 1988 and served as its deputy administrator since December 2019, did not provide a reason for her decision in the email.
An APHIS spokesperson did not have an immediate comment on the retirement, and Goldentyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
APHIS, Goldentyer and Gibbens also previously declined to comment on the grand jury testimony in the Envigo case, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
“There is plenty of time to finish up those last few projects – and for goodbyes,” Goldentyer wrote in an email seen by Reuters. “I don’t know what retirement will look like for me but it’s exciting… Have a good week and wish me luck.”
Envigo, a major U.S. animal research breeder, shuttered its Cumberland, Virginia, facility last year after the Justice Department searched it in May 2022 and seized 446 dogs in “acute distress.”
The company later settled civil charges alleging it had shown a “disregard” for the dogs’ welfare, and it agreed to forfeit more than 4,000 beagles that remained onsite.
The Justice Department’s parallel criminal and civil investigations into Envigo came after APHIS inspectors documented more than 60 violations of animal welfare laws at Envigo between July 2021 and March 2022.
Although APHIS has the authority to confiscate animals, revoke or suspend licenses, and pursue fines through negotiated settlements or administrative proceedings, it never acted against the company.
Reuters reviewed more than 800 pages of internal APHIS records related to the Envigo inspections that were obtained through a public records request by the animal rights group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The records showed there was a sharp divide between top APHIS officials and inspectors over how to handle the litany of problems that successive inspections found at the Envigo facility.
On March 16, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals sent a letter to members of Congress and USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack that raised concerns about findings in the Reuters story.
“We call on you to immediately launch an investigation and terminate USDA staff found to be complicit in impeding inspections, investigations, and enforcement against Envigo,” the animal advocacy group wrote.
Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Josie Kao
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