SHARK’s flying machines expose the alleged Bloody Red Baron of animal testing
CUMBERLAND, Virginia––Labcorp, parent company of Covance Research Products, has yet to respond to SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) drone video exposing how thousands of beagles live at the Covance company puppy mill in Cumberland, Virginia, according to SHARK president Steve Hindi.
Hindi on July 10, 2019 sent Labcorp a link to the video, posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww6OgrKlRlk, and requested “a meeting with Labcorp to discuss this issue and remedies as soon as possible, to avoid the continued suffering of innocent dogs.”
“The very best humane care”?
As undercover video of animal use facilities go, and even as SHARK drone videos go, the video of the Covance beagle breeding facility is not especially dramatic. No one is shown kicking, beating, or throwing animals. There are no dead animals, no hidden cockfighting pit, no chained fighting dogs. There is nothing in the video, in truth, that anyone cannot see every day at thousands of animal shelters around the world.
But the Labcorp Corporate Responsibility Report contends that “Covance provides the animals the very best humane care,” implying a standard of care superior to run-of-the-mill shelters offering impounded dogs little more than concrete block walls, chain link fencing, and tin roofs that echo and amplify frantic, incessant barking.
“Present & ongoing crisis”
“The very best humane care,” one might think, means facilities and exercise opportunities equivalent to that of state-of-the-art humane society shelters, not the dismal norm that has prevailed for more than 60 years––longer, in fact, than the 51 years since Covance started out in the basement of a former Seattle supermarket.
“As you will see,” Hindi wrote to Labcorp, “our drone filmed overcrowded cages filled with stressed dogs, cages littered with feces, and dogs suffering from stereotypic behaviors. As Labcorp is the parent company of Covance, you bear responsibility for this. SHARK has filmed these conditions on multiple days, so this is a present and ongoing crisis.”
Pooping on those below
SHARK is scarcely the first animal advocacy organization to challenge the Covance standard of animal care. The Ohio-based organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN) on October 16, 2017 called upon the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service to fine Covance the maximum $10,000 per animal for allowing conditions at the same Cumberland, Virginia facility that a USDA-APHIS inspection report detailed in graphic terms.
Wrote the inspector, “In buildings 96 and 97 there were two levels of enclosures in each of the rooms. The waste pan under the top enclosure was several inches from the top of the lower enclosure. Typically the waste flowed into a PVC pipe from the metal pan. However, in these buildings the seal around the pan and pipe of the waste-pan for the top level enclosure was broken.
“There was waste from the top enclosure that was dripping down the wall of the lower enclosure and was collecting on the wall. There was brown staining on the majority of the lower enclosure walls in the these buildings.”
In other words, the beagles above were more-or-less pooping on those below.
Complaint acknowledged, but no action
“Four dogs were identified as requiring veterinary attention during this inspection,” SAEN cofounder Michael Budkie pointed out in his letter to USDA-APHIS.
In addition, according to the USDA-APHIS inspector, “Approximately 15-20% of the dogs in the three buildings have excessively long nails. One dog was found with rear outside nails curling around to touch the paw pad.”
Several other dogs were found with untreated paw injuries.
“The USDA has acknowledged the complaint, but nothing else,” Budkie told ANIMALS 24-7 on July 14, 2017, 20 months later.
Covance and another company, Marshall BioResources, were the breeders of the 22 beagles used in lethal experiments by Charles River Laboratories in Mattwattan, Michigan, described on March 12, 2019 in a fundraising appeal signed by Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block.
Video “recorded as part of an undercover investigation by HSUS,” Block wrote, showed “Harvey, a beagle with soft, brown eyes, being taken out of his stainless-steel cage. Subsequently, you see Harvey with a big surgical scar: his chest was opened and two chemical substances were poured into it.”
Eventually all 22 beagles used in the experiment were euthanized.
The HSUS investigator, “who spent nearly 100 days at the facility,” Block recounted, “documented dogs being force-fed or infused with drugs, pesticides and other products, using crude methods, many that are unlikely to ever be used in humans. Dogs undergoing invasive surgeries or having their jaws broken to test dental implants. Dogs being used by workers to practice procedures like force feeding and blood collection.”
Limitations of the Animal Welfare Act
But the federal Animal Welfare Act, which has not been substantially reinforced since 1985, does not govern what may be done to animals in actual research and experimentation.
The Animal Welfare Act does, however, regulate how animals are bred, confined, and otherwise handled before, between, and after actual research and experimentation.
While the HSUS appeal focused on matters which would require Animal Welfare Act expansion for USDA-APHIS to address, the SHARK and SAEN complaints concern conditions which are explicitly within USDA-APHIS purview.
Monkeys starved at Covance site in Texas
Budkie on behalf on SAEN on July 8, 2019 also asked USDA-APHIS to more stringently penalize Covance for the deaths of two monkeys at the company’s primate research facility in Alice, Texas.
“Two monkeys are dead, and 23 others nearly starved to death after the staff at Covance Research Products forgot to feed them for nearly a week,” explained a SAEN media release. “Government disclosures on June 3, 2019 show that the USDA has cited Covance for violating federal law,” SAEN acknowledged, “but that isn’t nearly enough punishment.”
Budkie contends that in addition to citing Covance for neglect of feeding, USDA-APHIS “should have also been cited for failure to provide veterinary care, because veterinary care requires some level of daily observation, and someone should have noticed that the monkeys hadn’t been fed.”
Covance fined for 13 macaque deaths in 2014
The same Covance facility was fined $31,500 in 2016 for the deaths of 13 macaques that occurred in 2014.
“The first fatalities occurred after a thermostat malfunctioned and two primates died, according to a USDA inspection report, which notes that the lab did take corrective measures by installing an over-ride switch,” wrote Mark Reagan of the San Antonio Current.
“However, exactly one month later,” Reagan continued, “that switch failed and it happened again, according to the inspection report. This time, 11 macaques died.”
“According to the USDA citation,” Reagan added, “on July 28, 2014, ‘Covance directed transporters to travel without stopping to the Covance facility, despite being aware that the airline had not provided water as required, that the transport trailers’ air conditioning units were malfunctioning, and that at least five nonhuman primates were weak and in distress.’”
Covance vs. PETA
The incidents at the Covance locations in Cumberland, Virginia, and Alice, Texas, came to light seven years after PETA research and investigations chief Mary Beth Sweetland told media on May 17, 2005 that undercover investigator Lisa Leitten had between April 26, 2004 and March 11, 2005 secretly videotaped repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act at a Covance laboratory in Vienna, Virginia.
Alleged violations, Sweetland said, included punching, choking, and taunting injured monkeys; recycling sick monkeys into new experiments; failing to administer veterinary care to severely wounded monkeys; failing to euthanize monkeys who were in extreme distress; and failing to properly oversee lab workers, who allegedly tore monkeys from their cages and violently shoved them into restraint tubes.
PETA filed a 253-page complaint to the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, asking that the lab be shut down until a thorough investigation can be conducted.
Covance responded by suing PETA and Leitten in Fairfax County, Virginia, demanding that PETA surrender the originals and all copies of Leitten’s documentation, cease web publicity about the investigation, and agree to never again infiltrate Covance.
“Covance accused PETA and Leitten of fraud, conspiring to harm its business, and violating a nondisclosure agreement that Leitten signed when she began work there as a primate care technician,” wrote Bonnie Pfister of Associated Press.
Covance also sued PETA-UK and PETA-Europe, seeking to block distribution of the Leitten undercover video.
The attempts at spin control backfired.
Covance became a reluctant PETA “funder”
“During court proceedings,” the PETA web page about the Covance case recounts, “a British judge stated that the video footage was ‘highly disturbing’ and that there was a legitimate public interest in PETA’s investigation. The lawsuits were dropped in the U.S. and Europe. PETA was allowed to continue publicizing the evidence of cruelty and abuse that it had documented at Covance. In the U.K., Covance was ordered to pay PETA-UK $290,000. Some of the money was even used to fund an anti-Covance advertising campaign.
“As a result of PETA’s complaint,” the PETA web page continued, “Covance was cited and fined for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including failure to give veterinary care to sick animals, pain relief to animals who had been subjected to painful procedures, and social and psychological enrichment to primates. The USDA also cited Covance for physically abusive handling of primates and numerous failures of the committee responsible for oversight of animal testing at Covance.”
More failed spin control
Still trying to control the message, Covance announced in March 2006 that inspections by the Food & Drug Administration had “resulted in no findings to substantiate any claims made against the facility.”
The Food & Drug Administration, however, does not have laboratory inspection authority under the Animal Welfare Act. USDA-APHIS does.
A month later, in April 2006, USDA-APHIS assessed penalties against Covance totaling $8,720 for alleged infractions ranging from “administrative issues to scope of veterinary authority,” Covance acknowledged.
Long before any of the other verdicts were in, Covance in October 2005 announced that it had won a settlement from PETA in which “PETA agreed to a ban on conducting any infiltration of Covance for five years,” reported Gabriel Madway of MarketWatch. “PETA operative Lisa Leitten has also accepted a three-year ban on infiltrating any commercial animal research facility worldwide,” Madway said.
But Leitten had already told media when the Covance video was first released that the Covance investigation had been her third for PETA, and would be her last.
Leitten’s first undercover job for PETA, beginning in May 2002, was a nine-month stint at a contract research lab in Missouri that did feeding studies for Iams, a subsidiary of Procter & Gamble. Leitten’s findings caused Iams to fire the lab.
Leitten in 2003 infiltrated the Amarillo Wildlife Refuge in Texas, which was eventually cited for several Animal Welfare Act violations as result of a PETA complaint. By May 2004 the refuge was in compliance, USDA spokesperson Darby Holliday told David Fleshler of the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Covance initially came to the attention of animal advocates after U.S. lab purchases of monkeys from abroad more than doubled between 1997 and 2002. Charles River Laboratories imported 36% of the monkeys; Covance imported 30%.
The British Union Against Vivisection in 2003 hired freelance journalist Friedrich Mulln to infiltrate a Covance nonhuman primate facility in Munster, Germany. Mulln, like Leitten, produced undercover video of staff allegedly abusing monkeys.
As the case broke, Covance won an injunction against further distribution of the video by Mulln, but BUAV was beyond the jurisdiction of the court. Images from the investigation remain accessible at various web sites.
Some Covance animal welfare issues have emerged in other ways. On January 24, 2005, for instance, a fire of unknown origin at Covance Research Products Texter Mountain complex in Millcreek Township, Pennsylvania razed one of four barns which according to a 2001 USDA report cumulatively housed 14,000 rabbits.
Heavy smoke reportedly interfered with employees’ efforts to evacuate the rabbits.
Stuart Chaifetz says
We appreciate the coverage of the story, but with all due respect, we do feel there was very aggressive behavior by the dogs in the cages and certainly far beyond what one would see in shelter. We encourage people to watch the video and decide for themselves: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww6OgrKlRlk. Thank you.
Merritt Clifton says
With all due respect to Stu Chaifetz and SHARK, Beth & I have observed the conditions in hundreds of animal shelters over the years. We viewed the SHARK video of the Covance kennels multiple times, including frame by frame several times from beginning to end. We saw severe overcrowding and stress-induced behavior, but the Covance beagles were much more adaptive to the conditions than the average shelter dog, who before impoundment has known considerably more freedom and less confinement in close quarters with other dogs. We saw no “aggression” at a level that would be of concern to most shelter operators, just a relatively small amount of attempted mounting, some jostling, and some air-biting. When a Covance dog slipped and fell, or was knocked over, the dog was back up, uninjured, within a split second, not pounced, bitten, shaken, and dismembered, as is all too often the norm these days when shelters allow pit bulls, in particular, to have direct contact with other dogs. Most shelters try to singly house pit bulls, precisely because overt aggression is so common among them. Since pit bulls make up more than a third of shelter intake and about half of the shelter population at most shelters today, shelters are obliged to group-house other dogs, often at density comparable to what SHARK videotaped at Covance. Unfortunately, such dense group-housing often leads to pack attacks on the weakest dog in an overcrowded kennel. Between the pit bulls and the pack attacks, dogs killing dogs at shelters, once almost unheard of, is now so common that some major animal control shelter systems now log them in double and even triple digits annually. None of this excuses Covance, but SHARK personnel could visit shelters at random in either Virginia, where the video was made; New Jersey, where Chaifetz lives; or Illinois, where SHARK is based, and see many examples as bad or worse.
Stu Chaifetz says
UPDATE: A reporter told us that Labcorp is saying that they recently sold this facility (but they didn’t say who the current owner is now). We think it has to do with this, published on July 9, 2019:
LabCorp, a leading global life sciences company, executed a complex two-way acquisition and divestiture transaction with Envigo, a leading provider of nonclinical contract research services and research models. Under the signed agreements, LabCorp’s Covance Drug Development segment will acquire Envigo’s nonclinical contract research services business, and Envigo will acquire LabCorp’s Covance Research Products business. The proposed transactions will result in net cash consideration payable by LabCorp of US$485 million.