Al Melvin: for animal welfare when it’s convenient?

by David Safier

Melvin_and_dog` A few days ago I posted about a Senate vote by Al Melvin to exempt animal testing research facilities from Arizona's animal cruelty laws.

Melvin's was the deciding vote to move SB1159 out of committee. The 4 Republicans voted Yes, the 3 Democrats voted No.

The bill was written specifically for Covance, Inc., a multinational specializing in animal testing, which set up shop in Chandler in 2009. If it wasn't bound by state animal cruelty laws, Covance could have more latitude in the way it treats — or mistreats — its animals.

The thing is, Melvin makes a big deal about his love of animals and his support of animal welfare. From his campaign website:

One of my goals is to be a key Senator in the Arizona State Senate regarding animal welfare issues. By 2020, Arizona can be a NO-KILL state by pursuing affordable, and preferably free, spaying and neutering of dogs and cats. . . . I want to establish an Arizona Animal Welfare Foundation, so our citizens can include it in their trusts to finance animal welfare projects in Arizona, including horse rescue projects.

Melvin doesn't say anything about his position on animal testing in laboratories, but even if he is OK with animal testing, Covance's record should make any animal lover blanch.

[NOTE: I'm new at looking into this field and am depending on web research. If I make any errors or incorrect assumptions, I hope someone will correct me.]

Covance uses lots of animals in its research:

It is the single largest importer of primates in the U.S. and the world's largest breeder of laboratory dogs. It owns two dog-breeding facilities, two primate centers, and a rabbit-breeding facility.

In recent years, there have been numerous allegations of animal abuse by Covance, some of which can be seen in this ABC 15 news story from 2006 when Covance was getting ready to build its Chandler facility.

Among the many horror stories on the web, one of the most chilling, and one which should give dog-lover Melvin pause, is about a study conducted from 1978 to 1980 when Covance was known as Hazleton Laboratories. It was studying the cardiovascular effects of cigarette smoke. It used "204 permanently tracheostomized male beagles."

The dogs were forced to inhale all of the mainstream smoke generated by six cigarettes a day while being fed diets of varying levels of cholesterol. A number of dogs died during the study. The study concluded that smoking may have "a possible protective effect" and "lent no support to the suggestion that cigarette smoking increases the rate of development of atherosclerosis."

Note the conclusion that cigarette smoke isn't dangerous. This is part of a pattern at Covance, which has conducted lots of "research" sponsored by the tobacco industry which concludes that smoking isn't really bad for you.

In the 1990s, Covance performed studies sponsored by the tobacco industry claiming that even extreme exposure to secondhand smoke was safe for humans. According to the Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service, secondhand smoke substantially increases the risks of lung cancer and heart disease. Covance internal documents from 2002 discuss a "Philip Morris/Covance Project Team" for studies. At a November 2005 tobacco trade-group conference in Manila, Philippines, Covance's presentation was entitled: How Can Covance Support Research and Development Needs of the Tobacco Industry?

So much for any claims the company uses animal research to arrive at objective, scientifically valid conclusions.

There's lots more out there about Covance, but I'll just bring up one more point for now.

Covance lobbied hard to get permission to build its animal research facility in Chandler. At the time, it knew what the state animal cruelty laws were. Then, less than a year after it opened shop, it managed to get state Republican legislators, Melvin included, to write legislation changing the rules so it wouldn't be bound by Arizona's animal cruelty laws. (The bill died, by the way, but I have been told we should expect it to see it again in 2011.)

4 responses to “Al Melvin: for animal welfare when it’s convenient?

  1. Again, thoughtful reply, Jenn. Thanks.

    When all is said and done, Al Melvin, who is running for office on his record and his convictions, is the one who has to answer question number 3, not the two of us. And I think he should, for the record. This is one of the many issues that promise to make the LD26 race very interesting.

  2. @David

    Thank you for reading the comment and for your questions.

    1) From what I understand — and correct me if I’m wrong — Covance set up their facility in Chandler and than lobbied to have animal research exempted from animal cruelty laws. Personally, I do not think it is, de facto, unethical for a company (or a private citizen) to move to a state and than lobby their local government. I moved to Arizona to go to school, and I lobby as a private resident to change laws I consider Orwellian. I’m not enthusiastic about private corporations being able to throw money around to essentially BUY a change in existing laws (there’s definitely to be said about Covance being able to throw money around to get laws changed), but I’m not sure there’s something specifically unethical about moving to a state and than working to change laws there so soon after you set up. Otherwise, that might suggest there’s some sort of timeframe during which a person who has just moved to a place shouldn’t, ethically, lobby their political representatives. Which begs the question — how long would someone have to live somewhere before they qualify to lobby their government?

    In addition, I’m not sure if it’s unreputable for Covance to set up shop in AZ given our existing animal cruelty laws. When I read the ARS, I couldn’t tell if animal research is intended to fall under it or not. I’m not sure it’s accurate to suggest that Covance lobbied to change laws so that they would suddenly be allowed to abuse their animals — I think it’s more accurate to say that they lobbied to have laws that they probably already felt they were abiding by, clarified.

    2) I really can’t comment much on why the bill got pulled. I should think it does have an R leadership seal of approval. If anything, it’s been my experience that politicians are generally reluctant to make issues affecting animal research a top political priority. Politicians tend to be antsy publically supporting bills that make life easier for animal research, because PETA is so good at villifying what we do. My best guess is that, in an election year, Republicans weren’t eager to be targeted by the likes of PETA. I’ll admit that the images PETA gets tug on the heartstrings; they’re great at swaying voters, even if their accusations are all nonsense.

    3) I think the question isn’t whether or not this is in line with Al Melvin’s stance on animal welfare, but with his stance on science, technology, the economy, and public funding. Again, most folks think that animal research and animal welfare are mutually exclusive — my long-winded comment is trying to convince folks that animal researchers actually ARE champions of humane and ethical treatment of animals. I think Melvin should be criticized because SB 1159 is inconsistent with his position on science and technology — he has voted to limit research conducted on stem cells derived from humans and animals.

  3. Jenn. Thanks so much for your very thorough comment. This is what separates us from the wingers, I think. You’re defending a practice and a vote without thinking about the politics.

    (By the way, the right portion of your comment is cut off on my browser. If that’s a problem for others, let me know, and I’ll repost Jenn’s comment.)

    Now here are a few honest questions. The first is for you, the others you can answer, but they’re not really connected to your expertise.

    First, do you think it’s OK — ethical, reputable — for Covance to set up here knowing the state animal cruelty laws, then work to change them during their first year?

    Second, why was the bill pulled so quickly when it got out of committee? Remember, all the Republicans on the committee voted Yes and the Democrats voted No. The bill was sponsored by Bob Burns and John Huppenthal, which means it had the R leadership seal of approval.

    Third, though you have very strong reasons behind your support of animal research, would Melvin agree? As an avowed champion of animal welfare (on his campaign website), can he say this vote is consistent with his position? Will he stand up and say why he supports this kind of research on animals?

  4. David,

    Thank you for your post, however there are elements of your argument that I respectfully disagree with. As an animal researcher, I am particularly sensitive to animal cruelty laws as it affects laboratory research. I’m not totally familiar with Covance, but I’ve done a little reading on it since you posted this post.

    First of all, Covance is AAALAC-accredited. AAALAC is the international organization that accredits most animal research institutions to operate ethically on its animal models. The University of Arizona recently underwent AAALAC re-certification, so I can say with reasonable confidence that you don’t receive certification lightly.

    AAALAC is specifically concerned about the well-being of animals. They ensure that animals receive appropriate veterinary care, that appropriate anesthetics are used, and that other procedures are in place to minimize animal stress. Any AAALAC-certified institution has its environment and procedures scrupulously inspected to ensure animals are not abused in the course of research.

    In addition, animal research facilities must abide by federal laws concerning animal welfare. Academic institutions also have institutional committees that review the individual experimental procedures for animal research, specifically to look at humane treatment of animal models.

    In short, animal researchers get a bad rap. There are multiple checks in place to make sure our animals are well-treated, and that we are not subjecting our animals to abuse. Animals receive pre-operative and post-operative analgesia, appropriate anesthesia, and even issues of environmental enrichment and stress are taken under consideration (e.g. my mice receive toys to play with and are caged together to minimize stress from being in isolation). Sometimes, it seems as if some research animals receive better surgical care than humans lacking health insurance.

    But, what we also can’t get around is that animal researchers have to subject animals to experimental designs that can appear cruel. In your post, you cite Covance’s 1981 study of the effect of smoking on atherosclerotic plaque development. As in the Covance wiki, much has been made about the tracheostomization of the beagles. Indeed, it sounds pretty cruel.

    Well, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s, tracheostomy of large animal models (dogs in particular, a research animal of choice at the time) was one of the accepted models for studying cigarette smoking. Dogs were studied because their lungs are thought to be similar to that of humans.

    The model was first reported in 1968, by researchers working at research hospitals in New York and New Jersey. Here’s the citation:

    In the introduction, the authors discuss how the model is reproducible and controlled, better mimics the intake of nicotine experienced by human smokers (as compared to painting the skin with tar or putting animals in a smoke-filled chamber), and is conducted under as humane conditions as possible. Later in the paper, the authors also describe the reaction of the beagles to the tracheostomy — most appear to tolerate the tracheostomy well, and are even described by the authors as “cheerful” (… which is one of those funny phrases one encounters when reading old scientific papers…). Importantly, the experimental animals did not experience significant distress, and efforts were made to acclimitize and reward the animals for participating — to the point where the animals actually salivated in anticipation of being put in the smoking chamber.

    To me, animal researchers are often accused of being cruel, because the design or procedure of an experiment is cited, without noting the limitations or benefits of the research. Dogs can’t smoke a cigarette — so how do we expose them to cigarette smoke to study its effects on biology? The permanent tracheostomy sounds harsh, but it is a solution that has been reached to overcome this problem — by investigators who identified the need for an experimental model, but who kept foremost in their mind questions of humane care and treatment of their animals. Similarly, the model that I employ sounds harsh, but it is done under as humane and ethical treatment of my models as possible, and done in pursuit of improved care, treatment, and understanding of human physiology and disease.

    Similarly, I Googled Covance and found clips of supposed primate abuse filmed by PETA. One of the issues they raise is that the primates are placed in restraint tubes in order to draw blood. Well, I have to say this — members of PETA should try taking blood from an unrestrained primate, with claws and teeth that can draw blood with a single slash and who are carriers for human diseases like hepatitis, and than perhaps they can see the utility of using a restraint tube. Restraint tubes are used for many animals — for example, we use them on our mice when drawing blood to test for diabetic markers. Other equipment railed against by PETA were against other, similar procedures — all designed to minimize animal stress while maximizing the efficacy of data collection. Arguments against these kinds of procedures are really arguments against general animal research because they don’t take into consideration WHY these procedures are in place; they rely exclusively on the emotional impact of showing these procedures out-of-context.

    While Covance’s findings in their nicotine/atherosclerosis study are suspect (several findings since there’s have linked tobacco smoke with atherosclerotic plaque formation), we cannot outright dismiss Covance’s study simply because their findings weren’t consistent with other researchers. Good, ethical scientists arrive at conflicting results all the time — while I’m not saying Covance’s science was sound, the mere fact that they arrived at a conclusion that was later refuted isn’t proof enough that they are doing bad science.

    That being said, I did read the final report on the smoking dogs study and was dissatisfied with their lack of numbers and statistics. If one wants to argue against Covance for doing bad science, one should argue against the science itself, not against the fact that they used an animal model that is well-justified, and ironically, was used by scientists that demonstrated the negative effects of cigarette smoking in the first place.

    As far as Melvin’s vote on SB 1159, I’m a little skeptical as to whether or not animal researchers SHOULD be subject to animal cruelty laws. As I said, animal researchers already must abide by federal animal welfare guidelines, as well as subject their experimental protocols to review by local, federal and international ethical review. Because of what animal research is — animals will be subjected to physical injury, and will be killed, in the process of the experiment. Is it reckless or unnecessary? That’s really hard to say — some might argue that ALL animal experimentation is unnecessary, so maybe all of the physical injury that animals could be subjected to is unnecessary. Some animals must be temporarily fasted or fed specific diets — would that be a reckless deprivement of necessary food and water? Sometimes in breeding, we must kill animals that aren’t of a desired genotype because we can’t afford to keep them — if they weren’t experimented on, were they unnecessarily killed?

    I just don’t think our existing definitions of animal cruelty apply to animal experimentation, because in this case, animals are bred and kept for the specific purpose of experimentation, not as pets. Further, the standards we are held to in order to treat our animals humanely are that much higher because there’s a greater risk that an irresponsible scientist could abuse the system.

    I’m no fan of Al Melvin, but in this case, I’m not sure he’s on the wrong side of the issue…