A flurry of scientists on Twitter are calling for a boycott of antibody supplier Santa Cruz Biotechnology, which has been repeatedly accused of animal abuse by USDA investigators.
Last week, Nature reported that the company’s thousands of goats and rabbits have done a disappearing act on the most recent USDA inspection reports, likely either sold off or euthanized.
On Tuesday, amidst the controversy, the company’s Twitter account posted a goat and a dog as friends, with the words "Don't worry, I'll protect you! #dogsandgoats #toocute"
That Tweet has since been deleted, but plenty of other cute animals and cartoons remain.
The government’s complaints against the company include reports from inspectors who watched goats die in front of them. Inspectors also spotted animal injuries, including coyote and snake bites, and an unsplinted broken leg. The company also hid more than 800 goats from inspectors.
The damning inspections took place over the course of several years, ultimately leading the USDA to file formal complaints that the company had violated the Animal Welfare Act.
Now, several prominent scientists on Twitter have had enough.
“What pushed me over the edge was the picture of a dog hugging a goat,” Stephen Floor, a molecular biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is calling for a boycott of the company’s products, told BuzzFeed News.
“In science, we take animal rights seriously, and there’s no reason to use a company with animal rights violations,” he said.
Antibodies are often used in biology labs. Because they grab onto specific proteins, they can be used to determine whether a cell is making a given protein, how much it’s making, and even where in the cell the protein likes to hang out.
Michael Hendricks, a neuroscientist at McGill University in Canada, said he would encourage everyone at McGill to boycott Santa Cruz Biotech:
So did Daniel MacArthur, a geneticist at Massachusetts General Hospital:
Joseph Tomaras, director of Sponsored Programs and Research Compliance at Bates College in Maine, said he would be advising all lab heads "to buy antibodies elsewhere":
Another boycotting scientist, Darren Boehning, a biochemist in Houston, Texas, regularly uses antibodies in his lab, but has rarely found reason to use Santa Cruz products — even before the animal abuse allegations.
“I’ve long been a vocal advocate that Santa Cruz antibodies suck,” Boehning told BuzzFeed News. “They have a bad reputation for producing unreliable antibodies. I’m sure some of them may work, but I’ve had bad luck myself.”
The one time Boehning tried to use an antibody from Santa Cruz, he said, it grabbed onto other molecules, not just the one he was looking for.
Other scientists shared similar experiences.
So far, the company has not publicly responded to the criticism, and it did not respond to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News. Several Twitter users, including Boehning and Nature reporter Sara Reardon, have reported that the company’s Twitter account has blocked them.
Boehning notes that although scientists on Twitter tend to be in junior positions in the lab, they can still make a difference.
“If they have purchasing power, junior people can affect the bottom line,” Boehning, himself the head of a lab, pointed out.
“I will probably bring this up at our next lab meeting,” Floor, a postdoctoral fellow, told BuzzFeed News. “If you have a choice, use a different company. I think the choice is clear.”