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December 15, 2011

New Report Confirms Invasive Biomedical Research on Chimps is Unnecessary

Today, the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine issued a landmark report confirming that the current use of chimpanzees for invasive biomedical research is “largely unnecessary.” Nearly 1,000 chimpanzees remain in six U.S. laboratories, with about 500 of them owned by the federal government. The cost to federal taxpayers is $30 million a year to maintain these animals and use them in research, and the United States is the only industrialized nation to continue this practice.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report was commissioned by the National Institutes of Health following an outcry over the agency’s 2010 proposal to move 186 federally-owned chimpanzees from Alamogordo, N.M., to the Southwest National Primate Research Center in San Antonio. These chimpanzees, including 53 year-old Flo, had already been subjected to decades of harmful research, yet were slated to be available again for invasive experiments.

Flo the chimpanzee at Alamogordo Primate Facility
Alamogordo Primate Facility
Flo, an elderly chimp at Alamogordo Primate Facility.

At the urging of thousands of animal advocates—including more than 25,000 HSUS supporters, several U.S. senators, and former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson—the NIH announced in January 2011 that it would postpone the transfer of the remaining Alamogordo chimpanzees until the IOM committee issued a report on the necessity of using of chimpanzees in research. NIH director Francis Collins indicated today at a press briefing that the Alamogordo chimps would not be used in research for the foreseeable future. He also announced that a Council of Councils would be formed to make an assessment of what uses of chimps conform to the NIH guidelines. Those uses that fall outside the recommendations of the IOM report will be terminated in time.

The IOM’s findings support the overwhelming evidence that the use of chimpanzees in harmful research should end, except in very narrow circumstances. The report makes plain that the limited usefulness of chimps will diminish further over time, especially as alternative methods are developed.

NIH instructed the committee to disregard ethical and financial considerations when making their decision, but these factors cannot be logically excluded from any judgment about future uses of chimps. The cost to taxpayers would be significantly reduced if invasive research ended and the same chimpanzees were retired to nonprofit sanctuaries, where they live in far superior environments at a lower cost than the confined housing in laboratories—which do not have highly professional staff that know how to provide an enriched and humane environment. It is financially irresponsible to continue throwing research dollars away supporting chimpanzee research instead of pursuing innovative and cost-effective approaches that are also more humane.

Now that we have affirmation by a panel of experts that the scientific rationale for using chimps is very highly questionable, it’s up to Congress to pass the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act. Chimpanzees suffer immense, lasting physical and psychological harm from being used in invasive experiments in laboratories. Our 2009 undercover investigation demonstrated that the complex needs of chimpanzees simply cannot be met in a laboratory setting.

These bills (S. 810 and H.R. 1513), which combined have nearly 150 cosponsors in the House and Senate, would phase out harmful research on chimpanzees in laboratories and retire the approximately 500 federally owned chimpanzees—including those at the Alamogordo Primate Facility—to permanent sanctuary. Meanwhile, The HSUS has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to upgrade all chimpanzee populations as endangered—an outcome that would also end the use of chimps in invasive experiments.

In the wake of this important report, please act today to urge your legislators to end the use of chimpanzees in harmful research once and for all.

Léalo en español (Read this blog entry in Spanish).

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