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Covance ignites wrath of animal activists

By Wai Lang Chu , 15-Aug-2006

Covance, the world's largest provider of drug-development services, is bracing itself for the onslaught of protests by animal rights activists who are demonstrating against the building of a $100m (€78.6) laboratory in the US.

The use of live animals in laboratories for the testing of drugs has become normal practice for outsourcing firms that are involved in managing clinical trials. However, Covance's stance on their use has attracted condemnation from animal rights organisations concerned with how the animals are treated. Covance's purchase of a 38-acre site in Chandler, Arizona, is with the specific intention of building a 600,000-square-foot medical research and animal-testing campus that will employ up to 1,200 people.

 

Since those plans were made public last year, Covance has had to deal with a storm of protest from organisations such as the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Citizens Against Covance based in Chandler.

 

On July 14 of this year, Covance filed a rezoning request with Chandler, a move that will start a lengthy public process that has pushed the firm into the media spotlight and fan the flames of a very emotive issue.

 

Just last week, Covance received official backing from the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.

 

This was less than a week after a city planner requested more information about the companies planned "pathological waste thermal destruction unit:" an incinerator that could be used for animal carcasses.

 

Protestors, which also include the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international animal rights group, have vehemently objected to these incinerator plans.

 

They have objected to the potential for these animals to carry diseases and to the possibility that Covance would build an incinerator to dispose of animal carcasses.

 

Covance has hit back, saying that animal testing is part of developing drugs to cure diseases and that the company treats animals humanely.

 

They deny that there would be health risks posed by laboratory animals.

 

This has not been the first time the parties have crossed paths. In October 2005 Covance settled a lawsuit against PETA, in which PETA agreed to a ban on conducting any infiltration of Covance for five years.

 

In addition, PETA operative, Lisa Leitten, accepted a three-year ban on infiltrating any commercial animal research facility worldwide. PETA and Leitten also agreed to provide all video footage and written notes taken from Covance.

 

At the time James Lovett, senior vice president and general counsel at Covance, said: "This resolution achieves our key goals of the lawsuit: to obtain a ban on infiltration and to demonstrate that Covance will not tolerate such unlawful acts by those who seek to block important biomedical research." "Our business is devoted to helping develop new medicines for diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes, leukaemia, Alzheimer's, heart disease and HIV/AIDS. The research we perform is essential to ensuring that these medicines are safe and effective before they are made available to patients."

 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, the total number of animals used in that country in 2002 was 1,137,718, not counting birds, mice, and rats, which make up around 85 per cent of research animals.

 

Other sources estimate the percentage of all lab animals that are rats, mice, or birds at 85-90 per cent, or 95 per cent.

 

The Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group has used these figures to estimate that 23-25m animals are used in research each year in America.

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