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Why There’s Scant Hope for Progress in Animal Testing Under EPA Administrator Steve Johnson

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Steve Johnson is the former director of a monkey Abu Ghraib headquartered in Vienna, Virginia. You may remember Hazleton, as it was called back then, now Covance, the world’s largest supplier of and user of animals in product tests -- these are the tests in which animals have everything from Viagra to septic tank cleaner pumped into their stomachs, smeared on their raw, shaved backs, shoved up their noses, and dropped into their eyes.

The state of the art is such that the animals’ convulsions, ulcerations, and deaths are simply recorded on a chart with no treatment given to them during their often prolonged and severe suffering. Under the Clinton/Gore administration, PETA was able to secure some basic animal welfare considerations for major EPA animal testing programs, but is all hope now lost?

Just as I find it incredible that Lynndie England, who can barely grasp the meaning of simple sentences, and that lout who sired her child together masterminded the torture of prisoners in Iraq (modeled apparently on the “Survival Evasion Resistance Escape,” or SERE, training practices of our military “elite”), so it is that the blame cannot stop with Covance’s staff, who were recently caught on videotape slamming test monkeys onto metal tables and into metal walls, screaming obscenities at them at eye level, and otherwise terrifying them. Apparently, no one at the top kept an eye out or, if they did, objected to these routine behaviors, although causing psychological trauma to animals, including humans, can interfere with their immune systems and metabolism and thus skew test results. Small matter, though, if the money keeps pouring in from drug and household-product companies.

Back in Steve Johnson’s day, PETA uncovered Hazleton workers cutting off animals’ toes so as to make them easier to identify. Outside the Beltway, residents may remember Hazleton for another reason. In November 1989, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a tactical medical military team outfitted in biohazard suits entered the lab, killed all the animals, and sealed the facility. Ebola virus had been discovered in sick monkeys brought in from the Philippines. We hear that even today, Covance has sick monkeys on its hands quite often and monkeys scared out of their wits all the time.

Justice-oriented people who watch the video that Covance sued PETA unsuccessfully to suppress (at CovanceCruelty.com) don’t like what they see. Perhaps it’s time to ask Steve Johnson what he’ll do on his watch to incorporate basic animal welfare provisions into all the EPA’ testing programs and to reduce the number of animals killed in pesticide toxicity testing -- currently 12,000 per pesticide, including dogs.

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