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April 24, 2009

USDA Cites Primate Lab Exposed in HSUS Undercover Investigation


Watch the Video: A 2009 undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States revealed psychological suffering of chimapnzees and monkeys in research laboratories.

Less than a month after The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) publicly released video footage from an undercover investigation at one of the nation's largest primate research facilities, USDA inspectors have found the facility in violation of six provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Undercover Exposé

In 2008, The HSUS conducted a nine-month investigation of the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC), uncovering routine mistreatment of hundreds of chimpanzees and other primates. In early March, The HSUS filed a 108-page complaint with the USDA, alleging a minimum of 338 possible violations of the AWA.

Based on The HSUS's allegations, USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack ordered a full investigation of the facility, which is affiliated with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

A Failure to Comply 

The first step of the USDA investigation took place on March 17 when four USDA inspectors visited NIRC and cited the facility for its failure to comply with six critical AWA regulations—several of which were documented by The HSUS' investigator. The USDA report cites NIRC for failing to:

  • Provide adequate heat to primates in outdoor housing

  • Monitor sedated primates to prevent injuries during recovery from anesthesia

  • Transport chimpanzees in a secure manner to minimize the risk of injury to the animals

  • Have written guidelines on how to tranquilize chimpanzees with a dart gun so that the procedure can be evaluated by the university's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and possible alternatives can be found

  • Have written guidelines on how to help primates adjust to the "pole-and-collar" technique of handling and restraint

  • Have written documentation, reviewed by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, justifying why primates used in protocols have been isolated from one another

In their report, dated March 27, the inspectors noted that they observed three primates who were sedated while housed with their nursing infants and were not being monitored:

"Each animal was not responsive to our presence or the vigorous attempts of the infant to arouse their mother," the report stated. "One of the sedated primates had their head pressed into the side of the enclosure, possibly obstructing breathing."

Inspectors also observed primates whose tails had been amputated due to frostbite because of inadequate heating in outdoor housing:

"A percentage of African Green monkeys were identified with portions of their tails amputated. Some of these tails were amputated as a result of trauma and others were amputated as a result of frostbite," the report stated.

"We are pleased that the USDA appears to have taken our documented concerns seriously and, as a first step, has inspected and cited the facility," says Martin Stephens, Ph.D., HSUS vice president for animal research issues. "We believe the agency's final report of its investigation, expected in several months, will bring to light many more violations which should carry stiff penalties for the institution."

NIRC is typically inspected annually by the USDA for compliance with the AWA. No violations were cited during the facility's last inspection in September, prior to The HSUS' exposé.

Languishing in a Lab

The NIRC houses approximately 6,000 monkeys and 325 chimpanzees on its 100 acres for use in biomedical research, making it one of the largest primate laboratories in the country and the largest chimpanzee lab in the world. 

In the span of nine months, The HSUS' undercover investigator witnessed approximatly 20 of the chimpanzees used in active studies. The majority of the facility's chimpanzees appeared to be used for breeding or warehoused —housed until they are requested for use in invasive research.

The cost to U.S. taxpayers for chimpanzee research, warehousing and breeding is estimated at $20-25 million per year, money that many in the scientific community believe could be allocated to more effective research.

Running Out of Time

U.S. Representatives David Reichert (R-Wash.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.) have called on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to authorize the permanent retirement of 26 elderly, wild-caught chimpanzees currently residing at NIRC.

A large portion of chimpanzees in research labs in the U.S.  are considered elderly (at least 25 years old). The HSUS advocates retiring chimpanzees to sanctuaries such as  Chimp Haven.

The Great Ape Protection Act is a federal bill currently pending in Congress that would end invasive research on the chimpanzees remaining in laboratories, retire the approximately 500 federally-owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuary, and make statutory the recent decision by the National Center for Research Resources—part of the National Institutes of Health— to stop funding the breeding of federally-owned chimpanzees.

Against Better Judgment

The U.S. houses the largest collective colony of chimpanzees for biomedical research and testing in the world and, aside from the African country of Gabon, is the only remaining country to continue the harmful use of chimpanzees for research and testing. The United Kingdom, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and Sweden have all banned the use of chimpanzees in research and testing.

A survey conducted in 2005 by an independent polling company found that 71 percent of the American public agrees that chimpanzees held in a laboratory for 10 years or more should be retired and that Americans are twice as likely to support a ban on chimpanzee experimentation as to oppose it.

What You Can Do

» Ask your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Great Ape Protection Act, which would phase out harmful research on chimpanzees in laboratories and retire the approximately 500 federally-owned chimpanzees to permanent sanctuary. Take Action »

» Tell the National Institutes of Health to retire to sanctuary the 26 eldery chimpanzees currently living at the federally-owned New Iberia Research Center.  Take Action »

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