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International Resolution Calls For An End To Primate Research

Animal Protection Groups, Scientists Call for End Use of Chimpanzees and other Primates in Research

The Humane Society of the United States

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    Goodall speaking at the 2005 World Congress to Alternatives and Animal Use.

A group of international animal protection organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, presented a historic resolution this summer calling for an end to the use of non-human primates in biomedical research and testing.

It was the first step toward convincing governments, scientists, industry, funders, and regulators to find alternatives to the tens of thousands of non-humans primates used in research and testing annually.

Representatives of The HSUS, the German Animal Welfare Federation, and the Eurogroup for Animal Welfare presented the resolution on August 22 at the Fifth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Berlin. They were joined by renowned primatologist, Dr. Jane Goodall, who was the first of many attendees at the Congress to sign the resolution. The resolution had been adopted unanimously at a meeting of animal protection groups prior to the Congress.

"The unanimous adoption of the resolution by animal protection organizations from around the world demonstrates the importance these organizations attach to the cause of ending research on nonhuman primates," said Martin Stephens, HSUS vice president for Animal Research Issues, who spoke at the press conference announcing the resolution. 

The HSUS and others chose the Fifth World Congress to present their resolution because the Congress' mission is to facilitate the advancement of the replacement, reduction and refinement of animals used in research and testing, or the "Three R's," as this field of research has been named. The resolution is intended, in part, to help make the replacement of primates used in research an urgent priority of the Three Rs community.

The urgency of this call became even more obvious after the September 1 issue of Nature hit newsstands. The key journal article in this issue (Nature, 437, 69-87: 2005), which detailed the small differences between chimpanzee and human genomes, actually underscored the striking similarities between these animals and humans. "Chimpanzee intelligence, complex social relationships, tool use, and ability to experience emotions such as pleasure and pain were already well known," The HSUS's Stephens said recently. "Now we learn of the overwhelming genomic similarity. What more evidence do we need to face up to our ethical obligation to stop using these beings as tools in biomedical research and testing?"

Citing that non-human primates naturally develop social relationships, experience a wide range of emotions, have memory capabilities, have long life-spans, and the capacity to experience pain and distress, the resolution itself calls for "an end to the use of non-human primates in biomedical research and testing. We urge governments, regulators, industry, scientists and research funders worldwide to accept the need to end primate use as a legitimate and essential goal; to make achieving this goal a high priority; and to work together to facilitate this. In particular, we believe there must be an immediate, internationally coordinated effort to define a strategy to bring all non-human primate experiments to an end."

Why We Need a Resolution

Tens of thousands of non-human primates are used annually in biomedical research and testing throughout the world, some in countries where there are no laws to either govern their care and use in the laboratory or prevent their capture from the wild and subsequent exportation to other countries for use in research. 

Whether captured from the wild or born in captivity, most of these animals endure pain and distress caused either directly by experiments or indirectly by inappropriate transport, housing (such as social isolation), and care. All the natural activities of non-human primates—foraging for food, grooming one another, raising offspring—are severely restricted by a laboratory existence. Primates in laboratories can be forced to live alone in small metal cages, be subjected to handling by humans, and endure various procedures, such as multiple surgeries, food and water deprivation, and infection with deadly pathogens.

As a result, many live in a constant state of anxiety, remembering what has happened to them or their companions and anticipating what may happen next. Aberrant behaviors can result from these stressors, including self-mutilation, stereotypical movement, and hair-pulling. Some chimpanzees will be sent to a sanctuary system under the CHIMP Act, but most primates in laboratories are typically reused for various protocols, die, or are euthanized as a result of the research protocol for which they were used.

"The very reason that researchers use to argue in favor of using non-human primates as 'models' for their experiments—that they are so much like us in terms of biology, physiology, behavior, social structure, and intelligence—is the very same reason that makes it imperative that we develop an urgent plan to end their use," said Kathleen Conlee, director of Program Management for the Animal Research Issues section of The HSUS. "The primate resolution is the beginning of the process."

Non-Human Primate Use in the U.S.

There is only one law that governs the use of non-human primates (and other animals) in research in the United States, namely the Animal Welfare Act (and its corresponding regulations), as well as one policy, the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

This one law and one policy are supposed to guide the care and handling of thousands of non-human primates in U.S. facilities. In 2004, the number of primates used in the United States was 54,998, housed at more than 200 facilities. (This figure does not include those primates not being used, but still living in laboratories, such as those used for breeding). The chimpanzee is the only great ape being used in research in the United States, and the number is estimated to be between 1,300 and 1,400, the majority of whom are housed at seven facilities.

Chimpanzees are used primarily for hepatitis and HIV research; monkeys are mostly used for HIV, vaccine, and drug testing as well as malaria, infectious disease, and neurology research. Monkey species commonly used include various species of macaques (e.g. rhesus, long-tailed, and pig-tailed) and baboons, as well as squirrel monkeys, marmosets, and tamarins. According to an analysis conducted by The HSUS, approximately 77% of the federally funded research studies conducted with monkeys in 2002-2004 were invasive—that is, involved surgery, biopsy, or inoculation with an infectious agent, for example.

In Britain, where animal research is more tightly regulated than in the United States, officials do not grant licenses to conduct research on great apes. According to a recent article in the News Telegraph, marmosets and macaques were used in 4,760 "procedures" in 2003 in Britain, or about 0.17% of the roughly 2.8 million animals used overall in Britain for that year. The majority of these primates are used in toxicology procedures. The Netherlands, New Zealand, and Sweden formally prohibit research on great ape species.

Ending research on non-human primates altogether will not happen overnight.

"The first phase must be the recognition and acceptance by all stakeholders of the ethical importance of the effort," said The HSUS's Stephens. "The second phase will involve the development of an international strategy coordinated by all of the stakeholders, including determination of priorities and timelines. The resolution is only the first of many steps in ultimately ending the use of non-human primates in biomedical research and testing—but it is an important one."

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