A UK-based animal rights group has passed video footage of alleged animal cruelty at a facility in Germany run by US contract research company Covance to the Ministry of Environment in Northrhine-Westfalia.
State prosecutors in the region have launched an investigation into conditions at the facility, based in Munster, on the strength of the video evidence. If the allegations are corroborated, Covance could run the risk of losing its license to keep and handle animals at the unit.
The operation, carried out by the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV ), reportedly showed technicians mistreating monkeys at the unit.
In a statement, the BUV said its undercover video footage, provided by an undercover operative who secured a job at the centre, "provides clear evidence that Covance is breaking both German national animal welfare law and European Union legislation governing the housing and treatment of laboratory animals."
The operation bears some striking similarities to that which affected Huntingdon Life Sciences in the UK. In 1997, an undercover operation by animal rights activists exposed animal cruelty at HLS facilities, and this was followed by a concerted effort by protestors to close down the business, even though the company was able to demonstrate that the breach was an isolated occurrence.
HLS has its own dedicated anti-vivisection campaign - Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) - and so does Covance. The Covance Campaign has been operating since 2000.
The news comes at a time when the European Union has been stepping up its actions against countries it believes have contravened EU guidelines on caring for laboratory animals.