Making strides in ending the oppression of primates in research

 

It’s hard to imagine that in 2005, when chimpanzee Barbara first arrived at Primarily Primates, the sanctuary Friends of Animals manages in San Antonio, Texas, she was extremely afraid of everything about her new surroundings. Care staff says that these days Barbara likes to trade old enrichment items—such as blankets, books and stuffed animals—for new objects.

In March, she and Shu Shu, who she shares a habitat with, were introduced to Jason, and in no time the three chimps were hanging out in their woven fire hose hammock like long lost friends, grooming each other fondly. In her previous life, Barbara was shuffled between biomedical research centers. Because primates have rich emotional and social lives, they suffer greatly when confined to laboratory settings and used in scientific procedures.

Unfortunately, many of the chimpanzees and smaller primates who call PPI home have similar stories. Some were used as models to study behavior and cognitive abilities, test vaccines and develop treatments for hepatitis.

For example, April, who was captured in the wild around 1971, was eventually leased to Pennsylvania-based Buckshire Corporation and used as a breeder for hepatitis B research. April was thin and shy when she arrived at PPI. It took months of loving care from our staff to help her become comfortable with human interaction.

PPI also cares for 54 macaques, a species that makes up the majority of non-human primates imported for research, according to the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS). AAVS also points out that other highly-imported species include common marmosets, squirrel monkeys, olive baboons, vervet monkeys (also known as grivet or African green monkeys), and night monkeys (also known as owl monkeys).

As long as primates or any other non-human animal are used in research, FoA will not stop advocating through legislation and education efforts for vivisection to be abolished. As taxpayers in the U.S., people need to know that tax dollars fund the National Institutes of Health, which in turn grants funding to research institutions. It is not uncommon for research facilities to receive billions in taxpayer dollars for animal experiments.

Recently we talked to Jessica Dickard, program associate of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), about strides that have been made in the last 10 years towards ending the oppression of animals in science and what people can do to help. While there is still a long way to go, the good news is there has been progress.

CAN YOU DISCUSS CHANGES THAT HAVE OCCURRED IN TERMS OF ENDING THE USE OF PRIMATES IN RESEARCH IN THE LAST 10 YEARS?

Over the past decade, we have worked very hard to bring forward some key advances toward ending the use of primates in research. Following a 2011 Institute of Medicine study on the necessity of use for chimpanzees in research, which concluded that there were no existing areas of biomedical research that require the use of chimpanzees, in 2013 the National Institutes of Health announced that it would be phasing out funding and use for chimpanzees in research. In June 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified all chimpanzees as endangered, which made it unlawful to conduct invasive research without a permit. 

Soon after the decision went into effect, the NIH made an announcement that it would no longer support biomedical research on chimpanzees, and planned to retire all NIH-owned chimpanzees to accredited sanctuaries. While this is certainly a victory at face value, many chimpanzees still remain in labs today, awaiting their turn to be moved into sanctuaries. Although the NIH continues to fund research on other primates, continued pressure on industries has effectuated some positive steps. Greater public interest in the subject has garnered increased media attention, leading to worldwide news coverage of atrocities, such as the Volkswagen diesel fume testing on macaques and FDA nicotine experiments on squirrel monkeys, both of which have since been terminated. Most major airline companies no longer allow the transport of primates for research purposes, and a higher level of public scrutiny around the use of primates in research continues to develop.

ARE THERE ANY NEW ALTERNATIVES TO ANIMAL RESEARCH THAT HAVE PROVEN TO BE AN EFFECTIVE REPLACEMENT FOR PRIMATE TEST MODELS?

Despite the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulation that mandates environmental enhancement to promote psychological well-being, primates in laboratories continue to suffer from psychological trauma, and outwardly display signs of emotional distress including stereotypical behavior and self-mutilation.

NEAVS continues to work tirelessly to end the oppression of all primates in research labs, by supporting the development and adoption of scientifically superior alternatives to replace primates and to ensure that they are properly released to a sanctuary. Organ-on-a-chip technology (micro-chips lined by human living cells that closely mimic the key physiological functions of body organs) have shown great potential to replace animals in laboratories, including, in some instances, primates. They have shown potential to provide superior in vitro (test tube) test methods that mimic human biological response with greater accuracy than animal models on a broad scale of application across biomedical  research.

For example, scientists at Imperial College in London recently used a liver-on-a-chip platform to study the effect of hepatitis B virus, and noted similar biological responses to the virus as a real human liver. The replacement of in vitro technology for studying hepatitis B would have tremendous implications for primates who are currently being used to study this disease.

IS THERE ANY CURRENT FEDERAL LEGISLATION THAT WE SHOULD BE ASKING OUR MEMBERS TO SUPPORT?

Yes. At a federal level, we encourage our members to contact their legislators and ask them to support the following legislation: H.R. 2790, The Humane Cosmetics Act, which would phase out the use of animals for cosmetic testing and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals in the U.S. H.R. 1368/S. 503, the Animal Welfare Accountability and Transparency Act, which would require the USDA to restore availability of certain regulatory records produced by Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inspections, including noncompliance reports and enforcement actions for USDA-licensed facilities and businesses. This bill would also amend the Internal Revenue Code to require the use of an alternative depreciation system for taxpayers who were found to violate the AWA to prevent violators from taking advantage of certain tax benefits and protect taxpayers from unknowingly subsidizing animal cruelty.

WHAT IS NEAVS’ ETHICAL SCIENCE EDUCATION COALITION AND HOW DOES IT FIT IN TO ABOLISHING THE USE OF ANIMALS IN RESEARCH?

The NEAVS Ethical Science Education Campaign is our humane education program, which aims to end the use of animals at all levels of science education. ESEC provides free educational materials through our Alternatives Loan Library, including advanced software, manuals and dissection models. ESEC also provides informational resources for students and teachers, including a downloadable poster with guidelines and strategies for students who want an alternative to specimen dissection, and a map of states in the U.S. that currently have dissection choice laws or policies in place.

WHAT DO YOU TELL PEOPLE WHO THINK WE NEED TO EXPERIMENT ON ANIMALS TO FIND CURES FOR DISEASES LIKE AIDS AND CANCER?

In general, animals have proven to be very poor models for human disease research. Because they are genetically different from humans, studying illness in animals can give us inadequate or erroneous information. Even chim-panzees, our closest genetic relatives, do not accurately predict results in humans—for example unlike humans, chimpanzees infected with HIV do not become sick with symptoms of HIV or AIDS.

Chimpanzee research failed to help us develop a vaccine to prevent AIDS. And despite millions of animals used in cancer research, roughly 95% of cancer drugs that enter human clinical testing fail despite what the animal experiments may have led researchers to assume, and our incidences of cancer have continued to rise. According to Dr. Richard Klausner, former director of the National Cancer Institute, “We have cured cancer in mice for decades—and it simply didn’t work in humans.” 

DO YOU HAVE A LIST OF COMPANIES WE SHOULD ASK OUR MEMBERS TO BOYCOTT SINCE THEY STILL USE ANIMALS IN RESEARCH? ON THE FLIP SIDE, WHAT COMPANIES CAN WE ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO SUPPORT?

As a founding member of the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, we encourage companies to register for Leaping Bunny certification, which requires a voluntary pledge to abstain from animal testing at all stages of product development for cosmetics, personal care and/or household products. We promote certified brands through multiple platforms, including tabling events where we often provide product samples, and cruelty-free shopping guides. Many of these brands— including Avalon Organics (a personal favorite of mine), Dr. Bronner’s, Giovanni, and JĀSÖN—can be found in local drug stores and supermarkets.

While there are too many great companies to list here, there is a website that offers an online cruelty-free database, which can be accessed here: www.leapingbunny.org/guide/brands. It is important to note that some companies will state that they oppose animal testing, but still pay for it to be conducted when required by law (i.e. in China). Others may note that a final product is “not tested on animals;” however, this statement fails to indicate whether or not individual ingredients have been tested.

We don’t have a comprehensive listing of companies that currently test on animals, but work to educate consumers on how to make ethical choices and avoid purchasing products that do not reflect their ethics and values.