Animal Rights

How You Can Protect Great Apes

| by Mat Thomas

Tell Congress: Pass bill to ban invasive primate experimentation

"It's about the money. There's big bucks in this research, especially chimp research. We're talking millions. Millions of dollars."

Narriman Fakier, former employee of New Iberia Research Center turned whistleblower

In March of last year, ABC's Nightline, World News Tonight, and Good Morning America shows aired disturbing video footage captured by an undercover investigator from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) which depicts the severe abuse of primates at New Iberia Research Center (NIRC) in Louisiana, where new medical and pharmaceutical treatments designed for humans are tested on more than 6,000 monkeys and chimpanzees. The exposé documents what the HSUS investigator saw during his nine-month stint posing as a lab tech, using hidden cameras to bring Big Science's dirty little secret to light: that researchers routinely violate basic animal welfare laws, and only suffer consequences when the public demands justice.

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The United States is one among only four nations in the world where research on chimpanzees is still legal. Meanwhile, countries like Austria, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, and the UK have banned invasive experiments on all great apes (i.e., chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, bonobos — and homo sapiens) because the immorality inherent in such studies cannot be ethically justified on the basis of saving human lives. Seriously, torturing and killing our closest biological cousins is not the only (or even best) way to understand our own medical maladies, and yet it continues, funded by our taxes: why?

One reason is that animal research is extremely profitable. Between 2000 and 2009, the National Institutes of Health, a Federal agency, granted NIRC more than $17 million in public funds to conduct research on chimpanzees — money they used to viciously persecute primates, both within and beyond the law and often for decades on end. In this case, the government took appropriate action against NIRC, with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack ordering an investigation of their operations and pledging to punish anyone found guilty of violating the Animal Welfare Act. But while NIRC is one of the nation's larger primate research centers, it's trespasses still only represent the relatively small tip of vivisection's animal cruelty iceberg — what remains buried beneath the depths of deception is perhaps even worse, and even during the best of economic times, the U.S. government clearly wouldn't have the means to police every facility all the time.

Emptying the Cages

Thankfully, inspired by HSUS's repulsive revelations, Congress is now considering a pragmatic and compassionate solution: the Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326). This bipartisan bill would phase out invasive research on great apes, ban the breeding of these primates for experimentation, and permanently retire hundreds of chimpanzees to sanctuaries where they would be lovingly cared for instead of callously exploited for profit. Passage of this bill would greatly accelerate our country's ethical evolution towards respect for other life forms and advance our moral standing among nations, but there is still one extremely powerful force standing in the way of our potential progress: the numerous medical research institutions that would lose hundreds of millions in revenue if H.R. 1326 becomes law.

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The highly-influential Society for Neuroscience (SfN) is just one of the many scientific associations that cunningly cultivates an oh-so-purely-altruistic image, but is terrified of having their inalienable American "right" to torment animals for a living restricted in any way. Recently, this illustrious organization bombarded its members with a "Call to Action" urging them to tell their Federal Representatives to oppose the Great Ape Protection Act because "(it) would inhibit medical advances and researchers' pursuit of new vaccines and treatments to prevent disease" (hepatitis C in particular). In their sample letter to members of Congress, SfN even pretends to give a crap about non-human species by emphasizing the "number of protections in place to ensure the welfare and well-being of these animals" — conspicuously ignoring the fact that existing laws are not being obeyed or enforced, as the video evidence from inside New Iberia and other primate research labs makes so painfully clear.

While SfN boasts a membership of more than 40,000 scientists and physicians, only a miniscule minority of these are actively engaged in primate research. So why, then, did they disseminate this action alert to their entire constituency? Certainly, they fear no longer having great apes to sacrifice on the altar of empirical knowledge, but they're even more afraid of being drawn inexorably down the slippery slope. That is, if the government outlaws invasive primate experimentation today, what horrors will tomorrow bring — rights of personhood for genetically-engineered lab rats?!

Sadly, SfN officials and other dogmatists of domination are mentally enslaved by the antediluvian ideology that all of Earth's millions of species exist merely to serve human needs — an historically corrupt doctrine in which animals' interests are dismissed as utterly irrelevant. Fortunately, their outmoded attitude is not shared by the majority of society: an online survey being conducted by WashingtonWatch.com, for instance, currently indicates that nearly two-thirds of respondents support the Great Ape Protection Act. Nevertheless, it’s not We the People who will ultimately decide whether to pass this bill, but our democratically-elected Representatives in Washington, D.C., and animal research institutions' pockets are obviously deep enough to peddle political influence — so please make sure your Representative knows where you stand on this issue.

Use HSUS's "Humane Alert" to call and email your Federal Representative urging him or her to co-sponsor and vote YES on the Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326). Then check out the other ways you can help primates, and forward the alert to your family and friends around the country.