Monkey Love

Ever since drug-testing colossus Covance announced its Chandler invasion, this selfish sandpiper's generally sided with the biotech behemoth, which does federal-mandated animal testing of drug compounds headed to market. Sure, this feathered fiend cares for the animal kingdom's other species. But if it comes down to a choice between a drug that might salve this pecker's prostate, say, and a primate that has to be tested on and perhaps even offed in the process, well, then, nighty-night Curious George.

Initially, Covance plunked down $8 million for a 38-acre property on Chandler's Price Road Corridor, and filed an application in July to rezone it, an application that was facing months of scrutiny and a final vote before the Chandler City Council. PETA and a local organization called Citizens Against Covance vowed a fight. If the rezoning was approved, they promised to force a referendum.

To push their cause, anti-Covancers mass-e-mailed links to horrific-looking video clips taken undercover at Covance's Vienna, Virginia, compound. They said the video proved Covance abuses its primates, and truly, the footage is rough to eyeball. But so would footage of cows and pigs being slaughtered, and only hard-core veg-heads out there are suggesting that we all start, uh, eating bird seed.

Another interpretation of that same PETA video is that the restraints used are necessary so the primates aren't harmed while experimental doses are applied. Plus, it doesn't look like it's the easiest thing in the world to stick a tube down banana boy's throat and fill him full of pink goo. Covance was investigated by the USDA following the release of the footage, which PETA obtained by infiltrating the facility. The result was a number of citations, and an $8,720 fine, a slap on the monkey paw for a company that makes more than one billion smackers a year.

The video wasn't the only propaganda bullet in CAC's ethical AK-47. There's Covance's own gruesome history, which involves a 1989 outbreak of an Ebola virus strain in a Reston, Virginia, compound owned by a company called Hazelton Laboratories that eventually became Covance. The scare's the subject of Richard Preston's 1994 best seller The Hot Zone.

Just saying the word "Ebola" frightens the crap out of this cowardly cockatoo, but Ebola-Reston, as this version is called, is essentially monkey Ebola. Workers at the Reston facility developed antibodies to Ebola-Reston, but no symptoms. Covance's PR flack Camilla Strongin of the Symington Group (that's Symington as in ex-guv Fife Symington, baby) points out that the Reston lab was a quarantine facility, from which primates would be shipped out after receiving a clean bill of health.

"The Chandler facility will not be a quarantine facility," Strongin explained to this avian. "We have a quarantine facility that's in a very remote location, not in Arizona."

Revelations of tuberculosis outbreaks at other Covance sites have brought rebuttals from Covance that transmission from monkey to human is a rarity. But the fun doesn't stop at TB! There've been recent allegations by PETA and CAC that Covance performed post-mortems on primates while still alive. And there are concerns about Covance's plans to build an incinerator, and what effect the Covance facility will have on Chandler's wastewater.

From jump, ya gotta wonder how smart it was of Covance to hire on a partner of a PR firm bearing the name of an ex-felon (yeah, we all know Slick Willy pardoned Symington's sorry ass, yadda, yadda, yadda). Strongin herself is known for repping such classy outfits as the Arizona Department of Corrections and pro-tobacco-industry propositions. Charm-school grad, she's not.

In spite of Strongin's assistance, Covance finally decided to forgo the Price Road Corridor spot and buy a larger, 50-acre parcel that's already zoned industrial at the Chandler Airpark, essentially outmaneuvering the animal-rights activists in the process, leaving them no forum with the city, no chance for a referendum.

"Everything Covance submits from this point on to the city will be for staff-level review," Chandler mouthpiece Dave Bigos told The Bird. "There's no decision-making on the part of the planning and zoning commission or the city council."

Bigos related that Covance has yet to submit building plans. But if the company wants an incinerator to dispose of juiced-up primate and rat bodies, as is expected, it'll have to acquire a permit from Maricopa County, which'll regularly inspect it. Bigos said the city's looking into the issue of drugged-up wastewater, though he claims it's no big deal.

"We're talking about parts per trillion," he stated. "It's pretty minute; we're not too worried about it."

According to Bigos, angry e-mails from anti-Covancers have tapered off somewhat, yet CAC's crowd continues to show up at city council meetings and voice its concerns during open mic time.

On Saturday afternoon, this terrible tweeter flew down to Chandler Fashion Center, where anti-Covancers convene every other week or so, in front of the P.F. Chang's at the intersection of Metro and Chandler boulevards. Maybe it was the chill in the air, or the fact that no one really wants to stand outside holding placards for two and a half hours, but there were only about a dozen activists present.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons