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June/July 2005
Inside the Labs: Cruelty Exposed!
The Satya Interview with Alka Chandna

 

Dr. Alka Chandna
Dr. Alka Chandna

Sick, injured monkey

sick, injured monkey
Photos courtesy of PETA

In mid-May, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) announced its findings from an 11-month undercover investigation of a Covance Laboratories animal research facility in Vienna, Virginia. In a 273-page complaint with corresponding video documentation filed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, PETA documented repeated violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including routine abuse of monkeys used primarily in toxicological research.

On its company website, Covance describes itself as “one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive drug development services companies.” Headquartered in Princeton, NJ, Covance boasts “annual revenues greater than $1 billion,” and has research facilities across the country and “global operations in 17 countries.” Covance also breeds animals specifically for testing, including monkeys and dogs.

Covance operates over a dozen research facilities in the U.S., conducting tests on thousands of animals for “the top 50 global pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.” In 2003, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection documented similar abuses of animals in Covance’s facility in Münster, Germany.

For the past few months, PETA Research Associate Dr. Alka Chandna has been sifting carefully through the notes and video footage taken by their undercover investigator, looking for specific violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Here, Alka tells Catherine Clyne about some of her findings, and shares some of the horrors and heartbreak of what goes on in U.S. research laboratories today.

Tell us about PETA’s undercover investigation at Covance. What kind of evidence was gathered?

One of our investigators worked at Covance’s facility in Vienna, VA, for 11 months, documenting workers physically and psychologically tormenting the animals—slamming them against cages, beating them, and taunting them for no real reason. Verbal abuse was rampant; every curse word in the book was used regularly. They were in a war against these animals.

Monkeys were pulled from their barren cages of steel and concrete to have tubes—many of them very thick and too big for the young monkeys—thrust up their nostrils and down into their stomachs to dose them with a test drug. They would almost always hit the sinus cavity causing nosebleeds. This psychologically traumatic event was [compounded with] sickness induced by the chemicals and compounds being tested. Many of the monkeys used by Covance are only one to two years old. And if they were wild caught, they had been ripped from their mothers and their freedom, and are already traumatized from that. Of course the ones born in captivity are also taken away from their mothers at a very young age. So they are all very small, and Covance—despite their billion-dollar revenue—doesn’t have the decency to purchase appropriate sized tubes.

The animals are then bled in the thigh region. The standard protocol is to shave the area so you can see the vein, but Covance wasn’t even doing that. Instead they’d take the needle—a very large and thick needle—and plunge it into the animal’s upper thigh and fish around for the vein. This causes massive bruising and hematomas. And some of these monkeys are bled anywhere from four to six times a day.

After all this, the monkeys are tossed back into their cages and monitored for effects from the compound. It is deliberately imposed by the clients that there be no veterinary care for the animals. The monkeys get really sick, develop really high fevers, they hunch in their cages barely moving at all. In some protocols, many develop wounds, where say the monkeys were injected with TB and the wounds would get infected, blow open and all the tissue would die—you could see the tendons and muscle and everything. But they were just left—no veterinarian care was given and many of them just suffered in their cages alone until they died. It is just so horribly abusive.

So this is the sort of thing she witnessed—at least the tip of the iceberg.

What kinds of monkeys are being used and roughly how many primates do they have there?
Our investigator was working in one small part of the lab in Vienna—only one facility out of the many Covance operates—and she was dealing with hundreds of primates. Any facility Covance operates has well over a thousand primates at any given time. They use Sino monkeys, and perhaps some others, but primarily Rhesus Macaque monkeys are being used.

They test on other animals too, clearly?
Yes, they also had dogs in that particular facility as well as a whole smorgasbord of small animals that are used in experimenting—guinea pigs, mice, rats, and so on.

What was your role in the investigation?
I had the not-very-happy task of looking through the investigator’s notes. I have to say that PETA’s investigators are really the heroes of the organization—the heart and soul. They have to be in that environment, secretly taping everything that goes on, and that is their life for the span of the investigation. They are seeing the sad stuff. Of course they develop relationships with the animals, but they also have to maintain regular relationships with the people they are working with. They have the day job, which is working in the lab, and the evening job where they document everything they went through during the day.

My job was to go through the investigator’s log notes and figure out where the violations of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) are. The AWA is basically housekeeping—it regulates the cage size, temperature, and those sorts of things—mice, rats, and birds are not covered by the act at all. And generally the experimental protocol is off bounds. The facility or principal investigator can say that whatever they are doing is necessary for certain scientific ends and so they get to do it. It is basically the foxes guarding the hen house. So they always hold the trump cards.

But there are things in the AWA we can use to try and guarantee some type of humane treatment for the animals. For example, there is a regulation that indicates that pain, distress and discomfort should be minimized when animals are involved in procedures. So when you are talking about a huge corporation like Covance not shaving the legs of the animals to find a vein, they are not minimizing discomfort and pain.

In addition, there are regulations that are supposed to ensure enhancement of the psychological well-being of primates such as environmental enrichment and commingling with others of their own kind. But Covance wasn’t even doing that. I don’t want to over emphasize, but it is so painful to think that this billion-dollar corporation can’t afford a few plastic toys for the animals or replace the mirrors the animals have—they always get scratched up and there are no reflections. These are the sorts of things we can go after Covance for.

On top of that, there were injured animals—several monkeys who suffered from broken bones. Their arms get stuck in the cage bars and they break. In one instance the monkey was left for nine days without veterinary care. To make it worse, one of the supervisors in a staff meeting said that once he broke his leg and it didn’t get fixed for a while and it was just fine—just being really dismissive of the animal suffering. In another case they suspected that a monkey in stock—who wasn’t being utilized—was sick. But nobody really checked, they didn’t do a proper diagnosis and it was months later that they realized the monkey did have a broken arm. There were just so many issues of phenomenal incompetence, even with the veterinarians.

PETA filed a claim with the USDA. What is going to happen next?
I should say that my colleague Kate Turlington, an investigator liaison, had the harder job of going through all of the video footage the investigator took and created a video log. We pulled from that all of the video documentation that would support the USDA complaint.

We compiled and sent the complaint to the USDA—273 pages long with the video—and now they will review it and hopefully feel there is enough evidence to pursue an investigation of Covance. We are calling on the USDA to close down the labs.

In a parallel effort, our attorney has filed a complaint with the FDA. I can’t speak to these issues so well, but basically we are asking the FDA to look at things like sick animals—many of the animals Covance [used were] already sick—who died in mysterious ways, not from the drug compound. If you are using a sick animal to test a drug compound you start with a problem. So the drug companies that are hiring Covance aren’t getting the information that they want. It is clearly a FDA issue because the drug testing isn’t being done properly.

How indicative do you think this is of other Covance facilities? This isn’t the first time they have been accused of cruelty. Is the one in Münster, Germany, still open?
There are well over a dozen facilities in the U.S. as well as in Canada and several in Europe. The one in Münster is still in operation and I think that story shed some light on just how terrible the cards are stacked against us when we go to bat for animals in labs. After that investigation into Covance was done—by the British Union to Abolish Vivisection—Covance slapped an injunction against the BUAV, which stuck. They were not permitted to play the video documentation they had taken on their own website. It was a real case of where the people who were perpetuating the cruelty—the guilty ones—were tying the hands of the people trying to help.

Some people in the U.S seem to have the mistaken impression that primate research doesn’t really happen in this country anymore.
Were that it were true! It is such an interesting thing. Issues of how sentient primates are, the fact they can suffer physically and psychologically, have entered our public consciousness. Films like Project X that came out 20 years ago documenting the case of primates in military research have really shifted the public understanding of primates. But it would seem that the pharmaceutical and vivisection industries have been left far behind. I mean you would think that these scientists are on the vanguard of knowledge, but there is this phenomenal disconnect between what they feel they have to do and exploiting the animals.

Why do you think this type of research continues?
It continues because people can do it. It really stems back to that. In spite of the fact that ‘might doesn’t make right,’ when we can do something our lower instincts prod us to follow through. Animal experimentation is simply a habit that has developed in the scientific community. I don’t even like to say ‘scientific’ community because it seems to bastardize the word science. And of course there is the fact that pharmaceutical companies can test on numerous species and then put together the best picture for their drug to get into human beings. It is sort of a voodoo science that allows them to push the drug into the human market. It is extremely profitable for them—that’s why they do it. Even though there are cheaper and more reliable and faster methods—replacements to animal testing that could be utilized—they can’t manipulate the results [as they can with animals].

I saw myself in a very strange situation recently. I was at my local food co-op and one woman who worked at Columbia asked me about animals used in research. I found myself having to explain why most medical research isn’t really necessary or accurate. As an activist, what do you say to people, even smart compassionate lefties—or righties for that matter—who believe we need medical research to keep us safe and healthy?

That is a question we get a lot. I feel very strongly that activists who get these types of questions should have the latest information. The good news is that in recent years so much has come out—so much damning evidence about the use of animals in experiments and the extent to which they have not given us the answers we have sought. It makes our work a lot easier when the science is stacked up against the vivisectors. For example, in February of last year, an article was published by researchers from Yale University and several leading British universities in the British Medical Journal, “Where is the Evidence That Animal Research Benefits Humans?” They aren’t animal rights people, they are scientists who took a critical look at what is being published and tried to find some correlation between the animal experiments being done and results in clinical environments. Do the methodologies coming out of animal research eventually help humans? There doesn’t seem to be a link.

PETA has been working on an investigation into Columbia University regarding the abuse of primates used for research. What is going on in our own backyards here in New York?
We learned about what was happening at Columbia University through Dr. Catherine Dell’Orto, who was working there as a postdoctoral veterinary fellow. Upon being hired to work in the labs she was horrified to see that primates were undergoing invasive surgical procedures with insufficient veterinary care. She also saw there was insufficient environmental enrichment for the primates and that they would self mutilate or display other stereotypic behaviors like pacing in their cages or doing repetitive summersaults. She saw experiments going on that were just mind-bogglingly cruel and ridiculous.

She tried to use internal channels to effect change but was black-balled. So she started videotaping and taking notes, even photographing notes of various vivisectors. She told us about experiments including one where the vivisector would cut out the left eyes of baboons and insert a clamp into the empty eye socket, clamping shut arteries going into the brain to induce a stroke. Then the animals would be thrown into their cages and just languish there without any pain relief, comfort or veterinary care—not able to drink a sip of water or breathe properly—for a few days until they died. There was another experiment in which heavy pipes where surgically implanted into the heads of rhesus macaque females just to induce stress. The vivisector was studying the connection between stress and the menstrual cycle and has been doing it for 16 years. In yet another, Raymond Stark—for the last 23 years—has been pumping nicotine and morphine into the bodies of pregnant baboons. He then cuts into the fetuses while they are still in the womb. All of this work is absolutely ridiculous.

All three of these experimenters were drawing NIH and federal grants for their so-called work. We were finally able to stop the stroke experiments. And Dr. Dell’Orto’s boss was fired this January because the university was very upset about our campaign and needed to do something to address what was going on. And really, he was the gatekeeper on all of these issues.

The USDA also fined the university $1,000, which is really just a slap on the wrist, but it is also indicative that things are not right. And Columbia hired someone to develop an environmental enrichment program for the primates. You may know that Charles Patterson, who authored Eternal Treblinka, returned his Ph.D. to Columbia just a few days ago [in protest of] the various vivisectors and likening them to Joseph Mengele. We are actually giving him a Courage of Conviction Award.

Do you have any investigations going on at NYU?
We do not. Unfortunately, there are just so many facilities, it is all so overwhelming. Our hope is that by doing a couple of strategic investigations—coupled with aggressive campaigning—we can send a message to the whole community. Then we can hold up something like Columbia, an ivy league university located in progressive NYC and show that they abuse animals so aggressively, getting millions of taxpayer dollars. We want people to look at what is going on today, and think if that kind of horrific stuff is going on at Columbia—the crème’ de la crème—imagine what’s going on in other places.

As a thinking feeling person, what are some of your thoughts as you review some of this really egregious cruelty?
[Sigh.] You know it’s really interesting. Looking at the Covance laboratory, reading the investigator’s notes and watching the videos, the people who are throwing the animals against the cages are the technicians. In a sense they are the bottom rung of the hierarchy. They are doing the dirty work. They have to handle the animals. You know, after the first couple of times being dosed, the animals clamp their mouth shut—it’s the technicians who have to pry their mouths open and do the nasty stuff. Several of the technicians actually said on tape (of course they didn’t know they were being recorded), “I am going to hell for this.” They know what the score is.

But it’s almost more troubling when you go up the hierarchy to the study directors who approve protocols that are so horribly cruel, knowing it is going to be horribly cruel. They see how sick the animals are and won’t allow the veterinarians to euthanize them because the clients don’t want that. The clients want to see what is happening to the animals as long as they can. There is that really visceral objection we have to the cruelty being done by the technicians and then there is the cold-heartedness we see being exercised by people who aren’t handling the animals but are making the decisions that are so cruel.

No doubt, people will be inspired by this investigation to act. Do you have some pointers for people who want to get involved with undercover investigative work?
Well we are always looking for new employees, new investigators, you can certainly contact us. There is nothing more powerful than being a witness to the cruelty. We need all of these places to have glass walls. These days cruelty goes on behind closed doors, often on secure floors. From slaughterhouses to laboratories, the cruelty is hidden. We know that when people see cruelty they find it objectionable, so our job as activists is to bring this cruelty to the fore for people to see so they can make the changes and the animals can be liberated.

When watching the video footage, we would see a technician pull one monkey out, handling the animal very violently, trying to dose the animal. These tiny little monkeys in the neighboring cages extend their arms out and are actually trying to tug at the shirtsleeve of the technicians to get them to stop. I think about those images, they keep coming up. You have these monkeys in a cage that are so powerless and they see the violence right there. Here at PETA, we are always getting asked by people ‘what can I do?’, and I think about these monkeys and I think the answer is what can’t you do? There really is nothing we can’t do. We have so much power compared to what the monkeys have. We can write our letters, do our protests, and speak with Covance executives. We can tell everybody we know about it, we are really very powerful in comparison. That has been one of my take home lessons of this horrible thing.

With this campaign in particular what can people do to help?
We are asking people to contact the USDA to pressure them to do the right thing and make an example of Covance as one of the many drug testing facilities committing terrible violations of the Animal Welfare Act. And certainly they can contact Covance. I think it is important for the employees of Covance to know that the general public thinks what they do is not okay, that it is objectionable and something they should be very ashamed of.

For more information and to watch PETA’s investigation footage see www.covancecruelty.com. To learn more about experiments at Columbia University, visit www.columbiacruelty.com.

 

 

 


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