Animal-rights group targets biotech firm
Drug tester bought land in Chandler for possible lab
Edythe Jensen
Aug. 17, 2005

Chandler resident Jan McClellan holds a placard on Arizona Avenue downtown to protest global biotech company Covance Inc.'s expansion plans on 38 acres at Price Road south of Loop 101. Covance's use of monkeys in medical testing is at issue.

About 25 protesters - some waving signs and toy monkeys - gathered in downtown Chandler on Tuesday to kick off a local fight between a national animal-rights group and biotech company Covance Inc.

The global drug development company recently purchased 38 acres in the city on Price Road south of Loop 101 and is pegging the site for a future expansion.

"We need to let them know that animal cruelty is not welcome in Chandler," said Alka Chandna, of Norfolk, Va., spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

She set up a podium in the mid-day sun at Arizona Avenue and Buffalo Street in front of city offices and described the plight of monkeys used for medical testing and the health risks imported primates can pose to humans. She also urged residents to contact the City Council.

On the street, protesters passed out fliers decrying the company's practices. At the same time, Covance executives were meeting behind closed doors with two City Council members in nearby municipal offices, touting the company's work and its humane treatment of animals, said Councilman Bob Caccamo.

He said he and Councilwoman Donna Wallace met with Wendel Barr, a Covance senior vice president, and Steven Barkyoumb, executive director for toxicology services, at the company's request. The officials indicated they were trying to set up separate meetings with other council members, Caccamo said.

Arizona's open meetings law requires that a meeting with four or more council members at one time be posted as a public session.

"It's too early for me to develop any opinions," Caccamo said. "I'm an animal lover, but my wife is also a cancer survivor, and if it weren't for things like this (animal testing) she might not be here."

In a public response to the protest, the company released a prepared statement:

"Covance takes very seriously our regulatory and ethical responsibilities to treat research animals with the utmost care and respect. PETA and other animal rights groups have made it very clear that they oppose the use of any animals for any kind of medical research, even it if were to lead to a cure (for) HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, heart disease, leukemia, diabetes, Alzheimer's and many other diseases."

Covance spokeswoman Laurene Isip said Tuesday the company filed suit against PETA in June, accusing the group and one of its members of fraud and conspiracy. Covance claims PETA infiltrated one of the company's research facilities and stole confidential information.

Chandna said she flew to the Valley to make a public statement against a company that has been the target of PETA complaints over its treatment of animals.

"We didn't plan the protest," she said, adding none of the sign-carriers were summoned by PETA.

Several members of the crowd said they heard about Chandna's appearance from vegan e-mail lists. Vegans are strict vegetarians who exclude all animal-related items, including eggs, milk, cheese and honey from their diets.

"My girlfriend sent me an e-mail with videos and it made me sick. I don't want this in my town," said Chandler resident Linda Rollins, 56, who held signs and passed out PETA flyers with granddaughter Ashley Cooper, 17.

Chandler resident Jennifer Manago, 34, said she heard about the PETA appearance from a vegan Web site, and the disturbing images of monkey mistreatment brought her to the protest.

Michelle Redman, 19, of Scottsdale, said, "I'm against animal testing and I'd rather not be living around people who work in those places."

The Chandler land that Covance purchased is near Price and Germann roads, an area designated by the city as a prime industrial corridor. The parcel carries agricultural zoning and would require a City Council vote before any commercial facility could be built, said city spokesman Dave Bigos. No zoning requests have been filed for the site, said Principal Planner Bob Weworski.

The company, which tests drugs for Food and Drug Administration approval, has no immediate plans to build, Tom Oakley, global vice president of business development said earlier this month.

Chandna said PETA wants Covance to close its existing operations, not expand them. In a letter to Mayor Boyd Dunn, PETA vice president Mary Beth Sweetland asked for a meeting with city officials.

Efforts to reach Dunn on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Bigos said he knows of no scheduled meetings or response from the mayor. Brian Bosshardt, assistant to the mayor and council, attended Chandna's presentation.

This isn't the first time PETA has objected to practices in Chandler. In February, the organization objected to the treatment of ostriches in the city's annual Ostrich Festival.