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PETA asks USDA to follow up on DaVINCI laboratory.

Byline: Karen Nugent

LANCASTER - An animal research lab on the Atlantic Union College campus has attracted the attention of Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal welfare group.

Meanwhile, town officials conducted a second inspection of DaVINCI Biomedical Research Products, 20 Maple St., but have not taken action on possible zoning, health or other violations.

Robert L. Baylis, chairman of the Board of Health, said Friday the town's health agent, William Brookings of Ayer-based Nashoba Associated Boards of Health, is checking with the state Department of Public Health about possible bio-hazardous waste disposal problems. In addition, Mr. Baylis said, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which has water and sewer lines in the area connecting to the authority's wastewater treatment plant in Clinton, is investigating what the DaVINCI lab is putting into the sewer system. Treated waste from the Clinton plant is released into the Nashua River.

"We are not letting this fall by the wayside," Mr. Baylis said, "but we have to subject them to the same regulations as the Lancaster Animal Hospital, or the cat shelter (Volunteer Humane Society at Center Bridge Road)."

Zoning Agent Peter M. Munro said he and Fire Chief John T. Fleck inspected DaVINCI Thursday afternoon. The area, behind AUC's dining commons off Prescott Street, is zoned residential and a special permit is required for businesses. DaVINCI has no town permits or applications on file in the Planning Board or Zoning Board offices.

"The owner of the business is to be commended on the regulation of safety issues in the building," Mr. Munro said Friday. "He is also taking appropriate action in dealing with other issues that the town may have."

Mr. Munro said the evaluation is "still in the early stages."

Alka Chandna, laboratory oversight specialist in PETA's laboratory investigation department, said she has spoken to Mr. Munro and Noreen Piazza in the town Zoning Office, and has written a letter to Atlantic Union College President Norman L. Wendth about the college's lease with DaVINCI.

Ms. Chandna said PETA is asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to follow up on allegations made by two former DaVINCI employees who called the Telegram & Gazette independently, after a Feb. 14 article on DaVINCI was published, about the lack of town permits for the animal facility.

It was later discovered, through a 2007 USDA report filed by DaVINCI owner Joseph Villani - one of three family owners - that there were 408 animals at that time in the 50,000-square-foot former broom factory, including 53 dogs, 109 pigs, 50 sheep and 14 primates. Mr. Villani told a reporter the company only uses mice and does little research. He said his clients include the federal government and private researchers.

The company's Web site, which has been modified since the first Telegram & Gazette article was published, said it offers 21 products and services, including medical devices, testing of pharmaceuticals and medical devices on animals, and the animals themselves, including mice, rats, primates, and dogs. In some cases, the site said, the company inserts medical devices into animals such as ferrets, pigs, guinea pigs, sheep, goats, pigs, monkeys, and dogs, and sells the "pre-instrumented" animals to other laboratories.

"If the owners of the DaVINCI animal testing company feel no compunction about lying about the nature of their business to the community where they have set up shop, they will certainly have no problem with lying about the extent to which the dogs, monkeys, and other animals they use in experiments suffer and die for the company's profits," Ms. Chandna said.

Friday, Mr. Wendth, who noted that his wife, Winona, a former AUC professor and spokeswoman, is a PETA supporter, said he has not received a letter or e-mail from Ms. Chandna, although he said it may have gone into his SPAM file.

The Feb. 25 letter from PETA to Mr. Wendth points out the Seventh-day Adventist college's Web site regarding its religious tenets to "encourage a passion for knowledge, truth, and service to humanity."

"We do not believe that the apparent reckless behavior and significant ethical delinquencies exhibited by DaVINCI Biomedical Research Products comport with the goals of Atlantic Union College," Ms. Chandna said in the letter, which asks the college to terminate its relationship with DaVINCI.

Mr. Wendth said the college, while not connected to DaVINCI other than as its landlord, has a "very cordial relationship."

He said he has visited the facility a few times, but does not keep up with every single thing they're doing.

Mr. Wendth said when he visited DaVINCI, he saw "some laboratory rats involved in standard tests." He later learned that successful testing was done there on prosthetics (artificial limbs.) He said he did not see any cages and had no knowledge of the 408 animals, including the larger species, in the 2007 USDA report.

"I asked them point blank if they had that sort of thing, and they said they sometimes had mice and rats, and not much of that," Mr. Wendth said.

Contact Karen Nugent via e-mail at
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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