Flaw in Northam’s amendment foils bid to regulate state’s largest dog-breeding center

By: - April 22, 2020 8:51 pm

State Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)

A loophole in state law that exempts Virginia’s largest dog-breeding facility from state oversight will stand for another year after lawmakers rejected a flawed amendment intended to close the exemption.

Gov. Ralph Northam offered the amendment that would have extended state inspections and regulation to the Covance Research Products facility in Cumberland County which breeds dogs by the thousands for use in medical and veterinary research and experimentation. The amendment deleted one sentence in the current law that protected the Cumberland compound from state regulation because it is covered under federal law as a breeder of research animals.

Senators rejected Northam’s amendment 3-36 after the sponsor of the amended bill, Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax County, said the amendment would inadvertently put the Cumberland compound out of business. He said that Northam, when told of the concern, agreed the amendment should be defeated.

“The good news is … we can bring it back next year with proper changes to the code,” Marsden said.

Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax County, offered a bill during this year’s legislative session that would have outlawed such breeding facilities. It was sent to the Senate Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee to await action in 2021.

Boysko introduced the legislation after viewing a drone video of the Covance compound in Cumberland that was posted on YouTube by an animal rights group. It showed dogs crowded into feces-strewn wire-fence pens, most of them barking or yelping, some fighting, and others pacing nervously.

She noted there were more than 5,000 beagles at the facility but added that Northam’s amendment would not have shut it down. She said that bringing the facility under state oversight had the support of numerous animal protection organizations, including the Humane Society, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Virginia Alliance for Animal Shelters.

Northam’s amendment, she said, “would require the facilities to comply with the exact same guidelines we set for every other facility that breeds animals for more than 30 dogs.”

Marsden said that Covance had agreed to allow state inspections starting this year, without legislation to compel it. It is owned by Envigo, a biotech and life-sciences research services company which acquired it last summer from medical testing services giant LabCorp.

There was no immediate response to an email to Envigo seeking comment on Wednesday’s Senate vote.

However, a company spokesman told a Mercury reporter earlier this year that Boykso’s legislation “would have been detrimental to the people of Virginia and our country” and “would also have negatively impacted both human and animal health and have unintended consequences for global scientific research.”

Freelance journalist Jahd Khalil contributed to this story. 

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Bob Lewis
Bob Lewis

Bob Lewis covered Virginia government and politics for 20 years for The Associated Press. Now retired from a public relations career at McGuireWoods, he is a columnist for the Virginia Mercury. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow on Mastodon: @[email protected]