MUSKEGON, Mich. — City commissioners in Muskegon have cleared the way for a biomedical laboratory that conducts testing on animals to move into the city, at the site of a former prison.
Northern Biomedical Research was given approval for the purchase of a land site at 2725 Olthoff Drive, the former site of the West Shoreline Correctional Facility. It would be a short move for the company – they plan to move from their current site in neighboring Norton Shores.
The city has owned the land since 2019 and sees potential in the taxable income it could bring to the city.
“At the end of the day, what we’re looking at here is a medical research facility that is very much important to advancing the medical field,” said City Manager Frank Peterson during Tuesday night’s meeting. “Although you don’t always like how everything gets done, it’s important to know that sometimes, things have to get done if we want to move forward.”
Several residents voiced serious concern, though, over the company’s practices.
“Ghandi said how you treat animals sort of reflects the consciousness – can’t we do better in Muskegon?” said one citizen during public comment.
“Some of you have to own animals. One animal is not less than another. I don’t care if it’s a monkey, I don’t care if it’s a rat. One animal is not less than another,” said another citizen. “I really hope you think about this. Don’t let your wont of money and jobs win out over the humane thing to do.”
In a statement to FOX17, Northern Biomed said they anticipate making the move to Muskegon sometime in 2023, assuming the sale gains final approval. City officials noted that the facility is regulated by federal agencies and that in some cases, animal testing is a federal requirement before human trials can begin – but not always.
“There are non-animal methods out there that you can use to test drugs, to test chemicals, and to get the results they want for the clients they have,” said Ryan Merkley with the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. “If your desire is to have jobs in your community, scientific jobs, good paying jobs, there’s no need for animals to suffer for those jobs to exist. These two things are not in conflict.”
Merkley says work done by labs like Northern Biomed usually consists mainly of conducting research for companies that want to test claims about their drugs or chemicals. In their statement, Northern Biomed described themselves as a company “providing industry-leading, non-clinical research for targeted-delivery of drugs, biologics, gene/cell therapies, and medical devices” in the areas of neurology, ophthalmology, cardiology, and orthopedics. Filings from Northern Biomedical indicate that in fiscal year 2020, the company used 54 dogs and 105 crab-eating macaque monkeys in their testing, the same species that made headlines last week when a truck carrying around 100 of them crashed in Pennsylvania on their way to a lab in Florida.
Merkley says its perhaps a bit ironic that Northern Biomed is currently in the process of moving to a former prison site.
“These facilities are prisons for animals,” he said. “Having a facility like this in your backyard is demoralizing to anybody that cares about animals, but it also is upsetting to anybody that cares about the advancement of science.”
Merkley points to several disturbing studies by Northern Biotech. In one, dogs were purposely given heart worms to test a medication developed by drug company Zoetis. but only half the group was given lifesaving medication, the placebo group suffered the full brunt of the heart worms.
Merkley says his group has already reached out to the Muskegon city commissioners to discourage them from finalizing the sale. Tuesday’s decision was just one step – final plan approval still needs to be granted by the city’s leadership in the future.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the commission noted that Peterson has toured the Northern Biomed facility in Norton Shores, and wasn’t alarmed or concerned by anything he saw. Peterson also noted Tuesday that the company is also involved with other studies, like important work on treatments for Parkinson’s disease.
“There could be other components of it that are very high tech,” he said. “that maybe do not also include animal testing and could be very beneficial to our community.”
If given final approval, the commission plans to implement a tax abatement that would be split among all taxable entities in the city. They say right now, because the land is city-owned, it isn’t making them any money. The vote was unanimous in approval of the sale agreement.
Merkley and other animal activists hope there’s still enough time to halt the sale, or at least advocate for the company to change its policy.
“The company can change,” said Merkley. “There is absolutely no reason that, to operate a contract research lab in 2022, you need to subject animals to cruelty and you need to kill them. There’s absolutely no need for that whatsoever.”
To read the company’s policy on animal testing, click here.
They noted in their statement that all their animals are purpose-bred, meaning they were raised specifically for the purpose of being involved in animal testing.