Drug Companies Can Do More to Guard Against Lab Animal Abuse
Working to end animal abuse by industry is an integral part of Trillium’s animal welfare screen. Since the early 1990s, we’ve been involved in investor-relevant activism opportunities, from working with the pioneering advocate Henry Spira and Animal Rights International to persuade McDonalds to adopt policies for the humane treatment of farm animals, to protesting Pepsi and Coca Cola’s advertising sponsorship of bullfights and rodeos.
This year, Trillium is facilitating a shareholder resolution at drug giant Eli Lilly asking the company to strengthen its animal welfare policies. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) drafted the resolution as part of a campaign to address important enrichment measures such as providing animals with basic nesting materials, hiding places, opportunities to forage and exercise in a group rather than in isolated housing. Previous resolutions have addressed animal testing practices. This resolution is focused solely on animal well-being.
PETA has its share of ardent supporters and detractors. There’s no doubt that PETA can alienate with their often uncompromising tactics to promote a radical animal rights agenda. Nonetheless, the organization has earned respect in some corporate corners. One toxicologist at a major consumer products company told research analysts on a recent conference call that PETA’s work to develop alternative skin irritation testing methods was “impressive” and “useable.” As a shareholder activist, PETA has steadily racked up successes in advancing agendas for greater disclosure on animal welfare policies.
Who can argue with the need for greater compassion toward animals? Certainly, Gandhi’s reflection that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” has infiltrated many human psyches. Further, there is a growing body of research on animal psychology1 showing how barren conditions lead to stress, loneliness and frustration in animals.
Yet, “pharmaceutical companies by and large have been absent from the debate around animal issues,” reports Andrew Rowan, senior vice president of research, education and international issues at the Humane Society of the U.S. Through scientific research and political activism, a handful of consumer and healthcare product giants such as Johnson and Johnson and Procter & Gamble are demonstrating a willingness to improve the way they handle animals. Consumer product companies including Colgate, Unilever, and L’Oreal are making progress. Charles River Labs, an animal testing laboratory, promotes a strong commitment to animal welfare issues, according to Dr. Rowan. But, where are the big pharmaceutical companies?
The resolution at Eli Lilly asks management to extend animal care and use policies so as to ensure regular oversight of all in-house and contracted laboratory facilities, and to ensure behavioral enrichment measures are in place.
The resolution resulted from a Spring 2005 report by PETA that uncovered egregious and systemic abuses of monkeys at a U.K. facility owned by Covance. Covance is a worldwide contract research organization headquartered in New Jersey used by a number of pharmaceutical companies. Among the confirmed abuses were workers seen slapping and choking monkeys and hitting them with hard objects. When Covance learned of PETA’s report, they took legal action to stop PETA from publicizing the abuses. In the court findings, a U.K. judge ruled in PETA’s favor. The judge was disturbed by a videotape depicting “the rough manner in which the animals are handled and the bleakness of the surroundings in which they are kept….,” concluding that “[E]ven to a viewer with no particular interest in animal welfare, [they] at least cry out for explanation.”2
Why these abuses were allowed to happen calls into question the efficacy of regulatory and corporate oversight.
In the life sciences industry there are a variety of regulatory layers. Non-government run laboratories that house and test animals other than domestic rats and mice are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Animal Welfare Act stipulates standards for the care and use of animals, excluding rats, mice and birds. Many animal advocate groups, including the Animal Protection Institute, regard these standards as very minimal. Further, although the USDA has the enforcement authority, it lacks people power; at last count, PETA’s legal counsel found 101 USDA inspectors for a total of 9,600 licensees that represent 12,965 sites. Facilities can raise their profiles by becoming accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). Accreditation requires an application process, fee and agreed- upon site visits. AAALAC boasts of its independence, yet critics question of its effectiveness. they contend that the 10 year-old guide used by AAALAC is insufficiently stringent and complain about the infrequency (once every three years) of site visits. Animal lab researchers are given ample notice of the visit, which could be used to obscure evidence of abuse or neglect on the premises.
Despite the myriad of regulations layers abuse still happens. As a result, incidences such as those that occurred at Covance argue for greater corporate involvement. Vendor standards and corporate attention help stem labor abuses in the apparel, electronic and mining industries. Similarly, drug companies that adopt strong vendor standard-type animal welfare policies can curb industry abuses that are not adequately monitored by federal mandates.
The Eli Lilly resolution asks that the Board “issue a report to shareholders on the feasibility of amending the Company’s animal testing policy to ensure that: 1) it extends to all contract laboratories and is reviewed with such outside laboratories on a regular basis, and 2) it addresses animals’ social and behavioral needs. Further, the shareholders request 3) that the report includes information on the extent to which in-house and contract laboratories are adhering to the policy, including the implementation of enrichment measures.”
It’s time pharmaceuticals played an active roll in strengthening their animal welfare policies. Companies with explicit animal care and use policies send a message to their outside contractors that they will measure and report on policies that meet and exceed minimal federal guidelines. As basketball legend Red Auerbach noted, “An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise.”
1. “What Your Pet is Thinking,” Wall Street Journal, October 27, 2006.
2. The case captioned Covance Laboratories Limited v. Peta Europe Limited was filed in the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division, Leeds District Registry, Claim No 5C-00295. In addition to ruling in PETA’s favor, the Court orderd Covance to pay PETA ?50,000 in costs and fees.