A tiny Georgia town is in uproar amid plans for a huge $400million breeding farm for 30,000 monkeys who will be sold off for animal testing.
Safer Human Medicine sparked fury in Bainbridge, in the south west of the state, by proposing the sprawling site for the long-tailed macaques.
It filed plans earlier this month to erect huge sheds across a 200-acre estate near the town of 14,000 people, which will hold the doomed primates.
But it has been met with fierce resistance, with locals claiming it will smell and depreciate the value of their homes.
Others raised fears the monkeys could escape during a hurricane or tornado while animal rights activists attacked the firm for selling them for animal testing.
Johnny and Penny Reynolds stand in their front yard with a sign that reads ‘stop monkey farm!,’ which is to be built about 300 feet from their property in Bainbridge, Georgia
Safer Human Medicine wants to build a $396 million complex that would eventually hold up to 30,000 long-tailed macaques. The company says it plans to employ up to 263 workers
Artist drawings of the complex see monkeys in rooms surrounded by toys and obstacles
An artist’s impression of how the facility might looks on the inside
The $396 million complex would hold some 30,000 monkeys – double the city’s human population
The site occupied more than 200-acres and will be built by the end of 2024
Environmental impact is also a concern with locals cherishing the Flint River, which flows into Lake Seminole and whose waters reach the Gulf of Mexico.
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 the 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.
Concerned citizens of Decatur County and the surrounding areas attend a in Bainbridge, Georgia to share their opposition to the monkey breeding facility
The residents of Bainbridge, Georgia are working to stop a monkey breeding facility being built in the rural community
Medical researchers use the animals to test drugs before human trials, and to research infectious diseases and chronic conditions like brain disorders.
Because of their similarities to humans, the primates have essential for research into a wide range of diseases and infections.
Their use has led to breakthrough treatments for Parkinson’s, sickle cell disease, polio and COVID-19, according to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
On the ‘current state of the science,’ there are ‘no alternatives that can fully replace nonhuman primates’, the National Academies say.
‘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.
Medical researchers use macaques to test drugs before human trials, and to research infectious diseases and chronic conditions like brain disorders
Neighbors, Penny Reynolds and Ashton Cato, discuss their opposition to the monkey breeding facility to be built just a few hundred feet from their properties in Bainbridge, Georgia
‘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 (PETA) 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.
‘How are we supposed to survive this? They have diseases. We have a huge water right here, the Flint River, so the environment is a big thing too. It’s overall jacked up,’ said Yvena Merritt, a concerned resident added.
‘It’s like putting a nuclear plant in your backyard. Think about what this thing is going to smell like,’ said James Chestnut, 65, who lives close by, to USA Today.
The company say such fears are unfounded stressing how the facility ‘will not pose a threat to the citizens’ and ‘nothing discharged from our facility will create an environmental hazard or risk.’
Local residents had plenty of questions about the proposed site which has been approved
‘It’s like putting a nuclear plant in your backyard. Think about what this thing is going to smell like,’ said James Chestnut, 65, who lives close by
Lisa Jones-Engel, PETA’s science advisor 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.
‘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.
Residents who live close to the facility believe it will bring down the value of their homes but the decision has essentially been made to go ahead with the building of the site.
David and Donna Barber discuss their opposition to the monkey breeding facility that is to be built on the land they are standing on in Bainbridge, Georgia
‘They should have talked to us,’ said 70-year-old David Barber, left, a semi-retired farmer. ‘We shouldn’t have had to find out about this in the paper.’
‘Was a decision made based on good information? Because I think information has been exposed now, and it’s going to hurt my property value. There’s no doubt about it,’ one concerned local said.
‘The citizens that live near this project and the community as a whole loses if something goes wrong. Anybody who did not do the background on this project should be fired.’
‘First I heard about it I worried about myself, what my property value is going to do, what it was going to do to our health, and then all of sudden it wasn’t about just me. It was really about all these people in this area,’ neighbors of the proposed facility Penny and Johnny Reynolds said.
‘We want to stop the breeding facility. That’s our overall goal. We love to be outside, and I’m concerned about our environment, about the noise. 30,000 monkeys…,’ Penny added, worried about how their quality of life would be affected.
‘It’s unreal. Our world is upside down. This is a disaster. I don’t want the kids playing out here, breathing in that monkey stuff. What if one gets out? That’s all it takes.’
The entire process for the agreement of the facility has been shrouded in secrecy only further serving to raise residents anger and suspicions.
County and city officials have all signed non-disclosure agreements meaning the public were only told once the deal with Safer Human Medicine signed.
Local officials in December even agreed to 100 percent 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.
‘They should have talked to us,’ said 70-year-old David Barber, a semi-retired farmer. ‘We shouldn’t have had to find out about this in the paper.’
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.
PETA is against the project, emphasizing potential environmental hazards, while community meetings took place in order to strategize
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is have been proactive in putting forward their case as to why the lab should not be allowed to be constructed
‘It’s a cross between a maximum security prison and a daycare. 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.
‘So, you got to kind of take a deep breath and look through all the misinformation out there.’
Artist drawings of the complex see monkeys in rooms surrounded by toys and obstacles.
The company has said the monkeys will be in a secured environment but with plenty of space ‘to forage, eat and play.’
‘The leadership of Safer Human Medicine have dedicated their careers to responsibly managing and caring for animals in medical research,’ the company said in a statement.
‘We are all proud to have done our part in making safe, life-saving medicines a reality to Americans and their families. We have always been committed to operating responsibly and ethically throughout our many decades in this field.’
Investors expect the facility to be constructed will be fully operational by the end of 2024 although the full 30,000 monkeys would not be on site for about nine years.