Sinclair, a private lab near St. Louis, conducts studies on animals for a variety of clients, including Iams, Petco, Menu Foods and Elanco — a subsidiary of Eli Lilly and Co. PETA’s 104-page complaint to the USDA alleges numerous instances of animal cruelty and neglect, and failure to comply with the minimum standards of care and treatment established by the Animal Welfare Act. The USDA, which performs an annual unannounced inspection of Sinclair, is reviewing the situation, but says the lab has no previous record of wrongdoing. PETA claims that 102 dogs were poisoned with the pesticide Spinosyn at Sinclair during research conducted for Elanco.
Other PETA accusations include: dogs spinning and pacing in their cages; rough handling during procedures; untreated illnesses; lack of medical attention; vet technicians with inadequate training and experience performing invasive procedures; ammonia fumes so overpowering that employees had to go home; and dogs’ feet stuck in the slats in their cage floor.
Sinclair owner and director Guy Bouchard claims PETA falsified information, and says he received a perfect rating from the American Association for Accreditation of Lab Animal Care in April, immediately after PETA released its report. He adds that “the lab is inspected through the gills,” with frequent visits by prospective and existing clients. “Come any time,” he urged NUVO. “Give me one hour’s notice, and come walk the lab.”
The French Canadian lab director is admittedly angry about the report. Bouchard charges PETA with misquoting and misinterpreting information, and with doctoring photos. “PETA distorted the truth,” he insists. “They never contacted me; they have no interest in helping animals — just in scaring away clients.”
PETA research associate Peter Woods responds, “We are not in the business of telling labs how to do their jobs; we are in the business of showing the public how animals are treated. We’ve conducted investigations for decades. We don’t do housecleaning for labs. The videotape and photos do not lie; none were altered. Dr. Bouchard is not being honest.”
Bouchard confesses to isolated problems, but quickly adds that all were handled promptly and efficiently. He challenges PETA’s claims, saying, “Ask me anything; I’ll have an answer for it.” He also proclaims his love for animals — although he admits he doesn’t place them on a level with humans. “My responsibility is to ensure the animals are treated according to the Animal Welfare Act. I owe them the best care we can provide. But people have to understand that they are animals, and don’t have the same rights as humans.”
He calls animal rights people a “Walt Disney generation” who envision all animals as cuddly, fuzzy and intelligent. “They don’t realize that, in nature, animals eat each other. They ought to be focusing on bigger things; other countries don’t have time to worry about this.”
Sinclair has lost clients in the wake of PETA’s exposé. PetsMart and its food supplier Menu Foods of Canada refuse to use the lab. PetsMart spokeswoman Lynne Adams said, “We were absolutely horrified by what we saw.” Iams conducted its own investigation after seeing the report, and cancelled its contract with Sinclair because the facility was not within Iams’ research policy guidelines, according to spokesperson Kelly Vanasse. Since severing ties with Sinclair, Vanasse says Iams has begun forming an animal policy board, consisting of experts in various areas from around the world, to review external and internal facility compliance; conduct random, unannounced inspections; evaluate its animal care program; and bring new ideas to enhance animal well-being. Lilly subsidiary Elanco has not joined in with PetSmart’s and Iams’ public reactions of outrage.
PETA’s Wood says the organization’s letter to Elanco about issues of animal welfare at Sinclair went unanswered. Joan Todd, Lilly corporate communications, says otherwise. However, she continually side-stepped NUVO’s specific questions about Elanco’s relationship with Sinclair.
“Where animals must be used, measures are taken to assure that the fewest number of animals are used and that discomfort and distress are minimized. Animals are cared for under the close supervision of veterinarians and trained animal caretakers. We maintain the highest standards of animal care and use, and insist that the labs we work with do the same,” reads Lilly’s official statement, in part. But Todd refused to elaborate on exactly what those standards are, whether any Elanco employee has visited Sinclair or if there will be any future contracts with Elanco.
Todd also refused to discuss whether Elanco has established any criteria for lab selection, how — or whether — Elanco evaluates labs, if Elanco investigated PETA’s claims and why Elanco would be testing Spinosyn, a product that has been on the market for years. “We have nothing further to add to our response,” Todd replied to those questions. Elanco, a global research company serving producers, ranchers, farmers, veterinarians and other animal markets, conducted one trial with Sinclair, which is now completed, according to Todd.
Editor’s note: Lovely, who writes frequently for NUVO, volunteers and contributes to several charities, including PETA. Her animal rights views were disclosed to the parties she interviewed for this article.