Abuse of Lab Primates Escalates, Organization Claims

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Abuse of primates housed in U.S. experimental facilities is on the rise, according to the organization Stop Animal Exploitation Now (SAEN).

SAEN claims federal records and national estimates reveal that 5,000 monkeys are socially isolated in laboraties across the country. The organization further mentions that 1,700 non-human primates were denied anesthesia in painful experiments, while 900 were denied access to food, water and other basics.

(77-cm-high primate cage from USDA Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Spring 1996, Vol. 7 No. 1)

In a recently issued press release, SAEN targets two facilities as being the "worst primate labs in the U.S.": Charles River Laboratories and the National Institutes of Health. Each, SAEN says, has subjected over 1,000 primates to procedures that would be illegal outside of a lab.

UPDATE: I contacted both facilities several days after posting. Neither would directly comment, but I was referred to the Foundation for Biomedical Research. Liz Hodge, a spokesperson for the foundation, responded to three of the claims:

Claim #1: 5,000 monkeys are socially isolated in laboratories across the country.

Claim #1: 5,000 monkeys are socially isolated in laboratories across the country.

It is a federal requirement, under the Animal Welfare Act, that monkeys be housed in groups for their well being. However, if group housing will endanger the health and safety of one or more animals (i.e. an animal is fighting with the other animals or the animal has an infectious disease that could make other animals sick) then the monkey is housed separately for its safety and the safety of other animals. Other than that, monkeys are housed in groups.  

Claim #2: 1,700 non-human primates were denied anesthesia in painful experiments

Claim #2: 1,700 non-human primates were denied anesthesia in painful experiments

The Animal Welfare Act requires the use of anesthetics or analgesic drugs for potentially painful procedures and during post-operative care. If there is a protocol that says the use of anesthetics would render a study ineffective, they can be withheld; however, this must be approved by the internal IACUC committee and must be reported. Humane and responsible research is required by federal law. The use of animals in research and testing is strictly controlled, particularly regarding potential pain. Federal laws, the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Act, regulate the alleviation and elimination of pain. The scientific community advocates the highest quality of animal care and treatment for two key reasons. First, the use of animals in research is a privilege, and those animals that are helping us unlock the mysteries of disease deserve our respect and the best possible care. Second, a well-treated animal will provide more reliable scientific results, which is the goal of all researchers.

Claim #3: 900 non-human primates were denied access to food, water and other basics

Claim #3: 900 non-human primates were denied access to food, water and other basics

Prior to conducting any animal research, all protocols are thoroughly reviewed by both internal and external committees to ensure the study is humane and responsible, in compliance with federal law and is scientifically controlled.

Charles River Laboratories and the National Institutes of Health were not the only facilities mentioned by SAEN, which added that a primate was "killed by running him/her through a cage washer" at Harvard University.

The SAEN press release additionally claims that a monkey experienced dehydration at Brown University "because a researcher left town for three days." Adequate veterinary care is also lacking at many university research facilities, according to the organization.

“These labs, and others, routinely subject non-human primates to government documented animal cruelty,” said Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director SAEN.

He asks, “If private individuals treated animals the way that these labs do they would find themselves in jail. Why are there two different standards for legal animal care?”

Hodge counters with this response:

The USDA has set forth federal regulations governing the care and use of animals in biomedical research that are considered more extensive than those covering human research subjects. The Animal Welfare Act sets high standards of care for research animals with regard to their housing, feeding, cleanliness, ventilation, and medical needs. It also requires the use of anesthesia or analgesic drugs for potentially painful procedures and during post-operative care. Most importantly, research institutions are required –- by law –- to establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee their work with animals. IACUCs require researchers to justify their need for animals; select the most appropriate species and study the fewest number of animals possible to answer a specific question. The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Act requires that all institutions receiving research funds from the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, or the Centers for Disease Control adhere to the standards set out in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Under the PHS policy, institutions must follow detailed animal care recommendations and establish an IACUC to ensure that all animals are treated responsibly and humanely. Less than one-quarter of one percent of all laboratory animals needed in the U.S. are non-human primates. Approximately 30 different species are studied by the research community. Many historic scientific breakthroughs, such as the discovery of the Rh factor and the development of a live polio virus vaccine, were achieved through research with non-human primates. Today they are considered extremely important models in many areas of medicine because of their close relationship to humans. Non-human primates are currently being studied to discover new treatments and cures for diseases like AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and malaria.

The SAEN press release went out during National Primate Liberation Week, a time when the organization urges individuals to voice their concern over primates used in laboratory experiments.