Thursday, April 06, 2006

USDA Has Fined Drug-Testing Company Covance, After Investigation Prompted By An Animal Rights Group's Allegations Of Animal Abuse At Vienna, Va.

I want to note here that this is extremely rare. Usually, the USDA just turns it’s head to it’s business friends.


Company issued animal-care citations

USDA warned by PETA of mishandling

Luci Scott
Arizona Business Gazette
Apr. 6, 2006 12:00 AM

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has fined drug-testing company Covance, which has plans to build in Chandler, after an investigation prompted by an animal rights group's allegations of animal abuse at the company's Vienna, Va., facility.

Covance says that the citations were minor and that the offending employee, accused of mishandling lab monkeys, no longer works for the company.

Covance was fined $8,720 for 16 citations, three of which involved lab monkeys. The others concerned administrative issues and equipment.

"None of the issues cited by the USDA were pervasive or endemic," said Wendel Barr, a senior vice president with Covance. "While we don't agree with all of those citations, the company has agreed to (the fine) and we've already taken corrective action."

The investigation was conducted last year but the settlement was just announced.

Inspectors spent weeks at the facility and also viewed a videotape taken by a member of the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The PETA member had gone undercover and worked at the Covance facility for 11 months.

The video taken inside the Covance lab is on PETA's Web site.

PETA spokeswoman Mary Beth Sweetland said the group is unhappy with the fine, calling it too small.

"I think that the thousands of people who watch this video would assume that Covance would be fined a thousand times the amount that they were fined by the USDA," Sweetland said.

"The USDA is always aiding laboratories and making life difficult for those who take the time and the care to expose violations."

The animal-related citations involved a technician yelling at a primate and using more force than necessary to put a primate back into its cage.

"The three citations . . . were a total of three seconds out of 80 hours of tape," Covance spokeswoman Camilla Strongin said.

The third citation was prompted by the video showing the technician putting his hand behind a primate's head and apparently tapping or hitting, depending on who is describing the action.

"The view was that the contact probably was not warranted," Barr said.

Another citation had to do with a technician incorrectly measuring an animal for a cage.

Barr described Covance's training for its technicians as "exhaustive" and "robust."

"We do believe the issues cited were very minor, and I think the fine is probably an indication of the view of severity," Barr said.

Covance has purchased 38 acres on Price Road north of Queen Creek Road in Chandler but has yet to ask the city for rezoning. If it builds a facility in Chandler, the USDA will conduct similar unannounced yearly inspections.

Regular audits also are done by the Food and Drug Administration and Covance's customers, which are drug companies, Barr said.

USDA spokesman Darby Holladay said the agency takes all complaints seriously and follows through to "seek an outcome that makes sure that licensees or registrants are in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act."

PETA's Sweetland said that's not enough.

"Just like minimal standards of care in the Animal Welfare Act, the USDA also metes out very minimal fines to offenders," she said.

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