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The Physicians Committee

Covance Image, Reality Don't Mesh

By Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H.
November 9, 2006

This opinion piece was published in the Chandler Republic.

For years, I have been drawn to Arizona time and again, from the top of Kitt Peak to the depths of the (Grand) Canyon. In the Arizona desert, there is no place to hide. There are no dense forests to cover the blemishes on the land-scape. Even our faces show every imperfection in the unforgiving sun. I think, ultimately, this is why I love Arizona: One cannot hide from the truth here.

Yet that is exactly what Covance laboratories is trying to do. Facing intense public debate over its plan to build a large animal-testing facility on Price Road in Chandler, the New Jersey-based company recently pulled a fast one on the public. Covance announced it would build on another site -- a parcel of land near the Chandler airport that apparently does not require rezoning and thus may skirt the need for a City Council vote.

But as a physician deeply concerned about the animal cruelty issues raised by Covance's planned facility, I think the debate is far from over. Covance's abrupt change of plans reveals that the company is profoundly allergic to public scrutiny and opposition. And public concern over this project continues to grow, as the large number of Covance oppo-nents at a recent Chandler City Council meeting demonstrates.

The reason is clear: Anyone who looks carefully at Covance's claims about itself and its work will quickly discover a disturbing gap between image and reality.

Covance depicts itself as a producer of "miracles" for humanity. Yet Covance omits that it is merely a contract company. Its main focus is to help get other companies' products on the market as quickly as possible, no matter if those products are pharmaceuticals, cosmetics or household products.

Covance says it doesn't test cosmetics on animals. Yet Covance usually fails to explain that it tests cosmetic ingre-dients on animals. What's the difference? Good question. When a technician pours Basic Yellow 87 into a rabbit's eye until it burns, I don't think that rabbit cares whether or not Basic Yellow 87 is a final hair-dye product or one of many ingredients.

Covance claims it only conducts necessary animal tests and would have us believe it does not perform animal ex-periments that are not required. If that is the case, why does Covance continue to test cosmetic ingredients on animals when there are absolutely no Food and Drug Administration requirements to do so? Numerous cosmetic companies have done away with animal testing for more effective research methods.
Why does Covance insist on causing unnecessary suffering in animals? Because the animal-testing business is very lucrative for Covance. The company is one of the country's largest importers of primates and breeders of beagles and rabbits, who are then sold to other laboratories for experiments. How can we believe a company that has a vested inter-est in perpetuating animal experiments?

Covance claims that it treats animals with "care and respect." If so, why was Covance cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failure to provide basic care to its animals in five of its facilities in 2005 alone? Why did Covance continue to let animals languish in pain and misery, without providing basic painkillers or mercy euthanasia recom-mended by the company's own veterinarians? Covance would have the public believe that its opponents are anti-research. To the contrary, we demand the best research possible. I want the finest treatments available for my family and patients. More physicians and scientists are acknowledging that animal research is not effective at predicting human outcomes. Newer and ingenious companies are creating research methods that don't involve the immense uncertainties that come from using other species. Those are the companies that Chandler should be recruiting.

I'm confident that in Arizona Covance will not be able to hide from the truth for long. It's not too late. There is still time for Chandler residents to tell Covance to take a hike.

Aysha Akhtar, M.D., M.P.H., is a neurologist with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.


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