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Covance Gets an 'F' in Social-Responsibility Test

By John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

This piece was published Aug. 26, 2006, in the Chandler Republic.

What kind of company is Covance?

That's the big question as Chandler residents consider the New Jersey-based corporation's plans to build a huge animal experimentation facility on Price Road. The answer isn't pretty.

Covance is a contract testing laboratory that tests cosmetic ingredients, personal and household products, food additives, industrial chemicals, and drugs on dogs, cats, primates, rabbits and other animals.

In one typical test, technicians force a tube up a monkey's nostril and down into the animal's stomach. Toxic chemicals are injected through the tube, often causing severe pain and internal damage or even fatal injuries. No laws and no federal regulations require animal tests for cosmetics and personal and household products, but Covance does them anyway.

More than 90 percent of all companies that manufacture and sell these products do not allow them to be tested on animals, proving that animal testing is not necessary. But Covance is willing to do animal tests for the remaining companies.

Though Covance claims to adhere to all federal laws regarding animal welfare, the company has been fined as recently as February 2006 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act at its Vienna, Va., facility.

That was not an isolated incident. At least five other Covance facilities were cited by the USDA for animal welfare violations in 2005 alone, and Covance facilities have had serious animal cruelty problems documented by undercover video, whistleblower testimony, USDA citations and judicial rebuke.

Covance is also the world's largest breeder of laboratory dogs, and the largest importer of primates for experimentation. These animals are simply revenue-generating tools. While Covance claims to minimize the use of animals whenever possible, recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reports show that this animal-brokerage business is growing rather than declining.

Covance's claims of social responsibility further crumble under the revelation of its decades-long partnership with the tobacco industry. The company, under the name Hazleton Laboratories, was one of the original perpetrators of the infamous forced smoking experiments on beagles in the 1970s. It provided animal data favorable to the tobacco industry, contributing to the continued marketing of cigarettes.

Ancient history? No.

In the 1990s, Covance performed tobacco-industry sponsored studies claiming that even extreme exposures to secondhand smoke were safe for humans. In contrast to Covance's findings, the U.S. surgeon general has reported that exposure to secondhand smoke substantially increases the risks for lung cancer and heart disease. Lesson learned? No.

Covance internal documents from 2002 discuss a "Philip Morris/Covance Project Team" assembled to cement a close relationship in which Covance would conduct studies for Philip Morris. At a November 2005 tobacco trade-group conference in Manila, the Philippines, Covance gave a presentation titled "How Can Covance Support R&D Needs of the Tobacco Industry?"

While Covance claims to test lifesaving drugs, it tests many more non-essential and me-too drugs designed for profit, not better health.

And Covance doesn't mention that, as the FDA has noted, more than 90 percent of drugs shown to be safe and effective in animal tests fail during human trials.

Public health issues are also at stake. Chandler residents should be deeply concerned by the company's plans to build an incinerator to dispose of drug and chemical-filled animal carcasses, and to wash the feces and urine of these animals into a public water-treatment system that is not designed to filter out drugs. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and many environmental studies in the U.S. and Europe, treated wastewater carries these drugs into the surface water, groundwater tables, streams, rivers, lakes and aquifers and thus into the public drinking water supply. Does Chandler want these toxins in its air and drinking water?

Much more than just the "drug testing company" it claims to be, Covance has been and remains an animal abuser, a profiteer in the animal-brokerage business, a potential environmental polluter and a friend and enabler of the tobacco industry and firms that refuse to stop testing cosmetics and personal products on animals. That's the truth about Covance, behind the corporate posturing.

Chandler's biotechnology future does not need this kind of partner, and the people of Chandler should send this irresponsible corporation back to New Jersey.

Cardiologist John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C., is a senior medical and research advisor with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Dr. John J. Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

Dr. John Pippin, M.D., F.A.C.C.

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