Barbara Sumner Burstyn: Vivisection For Hire
Vivisection For Hire
By Barbara Sumner Burstyn
Margaret Harkema is well groomed, her well appointed home is set in expansive grounds. She owns her own business and her daughter attends a private school and competes in an equestrian team. In short Ms. Harkema is an upwardly mobile, financially secure businesswoman, wife and mother. She is also a vivisectionist. She and husband, Canadian toxicologist Dr Alan Goldenthal own Valley Animal Research Centre (VARC), New Zealand’s first vivisection-for-hire laboratory and beagle breeding facility.
Leaning on the fence of the pony paddock next to their Hawkes Bay home, Harkema is fronting for her husband. He has disappeared inside, red faced with anger at the arrival of a group of young activists. Fresh from protesting outside his Hastings beagle-breeding kennel, the activists are mostly under 25. Some are 13 and 14. All have made signs and know their stuff. They are also a little hyped from having car registrations and faces filmed by a security goon complete with reflective shades and a silent plain clothes cop on the scene to lend a hand.
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“We help people,” Harkema says, getting a little red in the face as well. She looks to her teenage daughter, fiddling with her pony in the immaculate paddock free of even one mound of pony poo, to make sure she has heard this tidy explanation. “We test the drugs you use.” She turns and looks hard at me, as if expecting a confirmation, then continues, “cough mixtures and painkillers and antibiotics.”
It’s almost too much to imagine the dosage needed to create a toxic painkiller reaction in a beagle. But while Margaret Harkema’s explanation of the concept of ‘greater good’ may satisfy her daughter, the real issues are far more complex.
Valley Animal Research Centre (VARC) is a contract animal testing company, which keeps over two hundred beagles for experiments. VARC was established two years ago by Allen Goldenthal and his wife, Margaret Harkema. The company has facilities in Hawke’s Bay and in the Manawatu, where they keep both dogs and cats for research purposes. The Manawatu operation is run out of Bainesse Kennels in Himitangi, a boarding kennel business which acts as a front for a vivisection laboratory. There are around 100 beagles kept for research, with a two story laboratory building. VARC’s Hawke’s Bay facility is also advertised as boarding kennels -“Animal Boarders” in Whakatu, Hastings. However, the kennels mainly house about 100 beagles, bred soley for experiments. VARC is about to begin a major expansion of their Hawke’s Bay laboratory. Alan Goldenthal has been performing toxicity testing on his beagles. Beagle dogs are the “species of choice” for these kinds of experiments as they are small, friendly, and co-operative. Typical experiments involve giving varying doses of a drug to twenty or thirty dogs, and observing the effects to see whether there is a build-up of toxic metabolites. Tests may be carried out for 4-6 weeks to investigate subacute toxicity, or up to two years to determine the chronic toxicity of the drug. Every year in New Zealand, over 300,000 animals are used in experiments and testing by universities, pesticide and chemical manufacturers and government research institutes. Species used include birds, cats, dogs, goats, guinea pigs, mice, horses, pigs, rabbits, rats and sheep. These experiments involve mutilation, genetic modification, live dissection and deliberate infection with painful diseases. Animals are tortured with drugs, poisoned with toxic chemicals, tormented in psychological testing, and subjected to many other atrocities that so-called scientists have been able to develop.
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In the US doctors are a leading cause of death. Or to be more precise the pharmaceuticals they prescribe. Every year 106,000 Americans die from the highly preventable side effects and adverse reactions to prescription and over-the-counter medicines – painkillers and cough medicines among them  . In fact, pharmaceuticals account for 4.5% of deaths in the US. Research completed in New Zealand by none other than Professor Peter Davis - the Prime Ministers husband - show similar percentages are killed by pharmaceuticals here. While investigations in Canada, UK, France, Denmark and Australia reveal the same patterns. In just one example Merck has agreed to a payout of US$4.5 billion to some of those adversely affected by the painkiller Vioxx. This one painkiller alone, despite the sacrifice of countless animals, killed an estimated 55,000 people. One health commentator said recently pharmaceuticals had become the single greatest threat to the health and safety of the American people.
How about antibiotic testing then? Surely some good must come from the suffering of VARC’s approximately 200 beagles.
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70% of all antibiotics in the U.S. are used in healthy pigs, poultry and beef.  Most is used in animal feed for confinement farming to promote growth and ensure battery farmed, feed lotted, crated and caged animal’s stay alive long enough to reach there target weight for slaughter. As we all know this profit driven, industrial form of farming has lead to antibiotic resistance in humans, fuelling an endless market for new and stronger formulas.
Depending on how you view these things, you could be forgiven for wondering if the Margaret Harkema and Alan Goldenthal have stumbled on to a perfect business scenario: a country with limited animals rights regulation and a sealed cycle of abuse and misuse to endlessly feed their bonanza contract business.
So given some of the products VARC test actually harm the humans they are intended for, how likely are their assertions that not a single animal in their care has ever been harmed?
The real point is that after years of vivisection, drugs tested on animals are not safer for humans. Every beagle abused by the Harkema and her husband is abused in vain.
As Harkema’s daughter leads her pampered, jumpy pony away, her mother has run out of excuses and stomps back into her stylishly renovated home, followed by five small overweight purebred dogs trying desperately to wag their docked tails.
While the Harkema and Goldenthal believe they have a right to run their business without harassment from angry young people, it is clear their justifications are hollow excuses for animal abuse for profit. Their contract vivisection service exists to serve just one higher purpose, their personal financial gain.
© Barbara Sumner Burstyn November 07