From Nature magazine

One of the largest suppliers of dogs for drug research in Europe may be shut down permanently after an Italian court ordered that it be temporarily closed.

On 18 July the court temporarily closed the facility in response to allegations of maltreatment of the dogs by two animal rights groups, LAV and Legambiente. Inspectors accompanied by police immediately entered the Green Hill facility, which belongs to the US-based Marshall Bioresources, and confiscated computers and other items for analysis.

The court also gave the groups responsibility for the care of the 2,500 beagles in the facility. The groups began distributing the dogs to foster homes on 27 July. Already around 1,000 are in temporary homes pending the outcome of the investigation. They will not be allowed to return to Green Hill in case they introduce pathogens into the facility. Many believe the loss of the dogs means the survival of the company is threatened.

Most of the beagles are used in mandatory safety testing of new drugs. Magda Chlebus, a spokesperson for the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations, says this will cause a problem for drug developers because the company supplies a sizeable proportion of the dogs used in Europe, and other dog breeding facilities could be discouraged.

It means “a delay in better treatments for patients, and ironically, potentially a negative animal welfare impact should the studies be conducted in countries or regions with less stringent legislation than Europe,” she says.

Green Hill has been inspected regularly by Italian authorities according to legal requirements without any problems, says Andy Smith, a vice president of the North Rose, NY-based Marshall BioResources. “But in the last year, the rate of inspections have been stepped up to almost weekly,” he says. “It seems to be a political campaign to get us closed down.”

Roberto Caminiti, a physiologist at the University of Rome 'La Sapienza' and chairman of the Committee on Animals in Research for the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, says the pressure on Green Hill is probably connected with recent attempts by some parliamentarians to use the implementation of a European Union directive on animal research to ban breeding of cats and dogs for research purposes in Italy. The directive bans only breeding of primates (See 'Italian scientists fight tightened rules on animal testing').

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on August 2, 2012.