[monkeywire] Federal animal-research official suggests that the day might come when experimentation on chimpanzees is ended.

steven brooke stevestrash at yahoo.com
Mon Oct 27 17:59:04 EST 2003


Ban It of the Apes

by Philip Dawdy

You are excused for thinking that Seattle was on the
verge of another WTO meltdown last week. Local media
went out of their way to portray animal-rights
advocates as extremists who would use violence to
disrupt a conference of the American Association of
Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) at the Washington
Convention and Trade Center. Not only did nothing
happen, reporters missed a tectonic shift in the
never-ending conflict between researchers and
activists over the use of animals in biomedical
It's a debate that's always framed in absolutes.
Researchers insist that animal research is the crucial
test bed for advancing human health. Animal-rights
advocates shout that such research is not applicable
to humankind and smacks of slavery, and worse. No
wonder, then, that the shouting on both sides of the
argument stopped when a senior National Institutes of
Health official said that one day there might be a ban
on the use of chimpanzees in research in the U.S. 

Thousands of animal researchers and technicians, as
well as federal agencies that fund their work and
exhibitors showing off the latest in cages and
anesthesia systems, had gathered for the annual
symposium. During a session on Oct. 14 on the use of
chimpanzees in biomedical research, Kathleen Conlee, a
primate specialist with the Humane Society of the
United States, asked John Strandberg, the NIH
official, about the likelihood of a future ban on
experimenting on chimps. Strandberg, director of
comparative medicine for NIH's National Center for
Research Resources, effectively guides NIH policy on
what animals are used in research. NCRR, among other
things, funds America's eight national primate centers
(including the one at the University of Washington in
Seattle), two of which use chimps, and a few other
chimp facilities around the country. 

"It wouldn't surprise me," Strandberg carefully
replied, "that at some time in the future—I don't want
to get into when—that chimpanzees are not used" in
biomedical research. 

No matter how considered his language, Strandberg's
comment represented a global shift. In a later
interview, Strandberg explained that the recent bans
on chimp research by European Union countries and New
Zealand, coupled with pro-chimp public sentiment in
this country and intense congressional pressure from
U.S. Rep. Robert Greenwood, R-Pa., had nudged NIH's
thinking away from its usual absolutist line: that all
animal species should be available for research. "The
public perception of this is evolving," Strandberg

THE BAN, if enacted, would be the first time the
federal government stopped the use of any species in
biomedical research, according to officials at the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, which regulates the
use of animals in research, and the U.S. Fish &
Wildlife Service, which regulates endangered species
and research on wildlife. "This is definitely a first,
and it is significant in that respect," says Peter
Singer, a bioethicist at Princeton University and
author of Animal Liberation, a book credited by many
as launching the modern animal-rights movement in the
U.S. "I think what it signals is that there are
changes of the sort that people in the animal-rights
movement have been talking about for 30 years," Singer
says. "It's not going to be an all or nothing thing.
It's a matter of making steady progress in changing
peoples views." 

Animal-rights advocates contacted by Seattle Weekly
say they have never heard such talk out of NIH—that
the government would actually consider banning the use
of any animal in research. 

Researchers were less willing to talk about the issue.
Suzette Tardif, associate director of the Southwest
National Primate Research Center in San Antonio,
Texas, declined to comment on Strandberg's statement
itself. Her center uses chimpanzees in research. Asked
what effect a ban would have, Tardif said that chimps
are the only species, aside from humans, that
contracts Hepatitis C, the leading reason for liver
transplants in the U.S. 

TRUE, CHIMPS SHARE upwards of 99 percent of human DNA,
making them our biological next of kin. In the wild,
they make tools and occasionally engage in human-like
violence, as opposed to hunting—the only animal
species known to do so. They can learn sign language.
They are complex, social animals. They create
communities and politics within those communities. In
effect, they are us and we are them in a way that rats
and mice, which animal-rights absolutists insist be
freed, probably never will be in the public mind. 

Although the research community has decreased its use
of chimps in recent years, an estimated 1,325 remain
in the NIH research system, according to Strandberg.
(None of them are at UW's Washington National Primate
Research Center.) 

Research advocacy groups often cite polls showing that
Americans favor the use of animals in biomedical
research. But last year, a Zogby poll found that a
majority of Americans believe that chimpanzees deserve
rights equal to those of young children, presumably
including the right not to have research performed on
them without their informed consent. Clearly, the
public at large sees the animal-research issue in far
more conflicted terms than do the warring parties. 

Some researchers do, too. Says Ajit Varki, a professor
of medicine who uses chimps in his research at the
University of California at San Diego: "There is a
middle path that would be best for all concerned.
Change the rules to accommodate our latest
appreciation of the ethical status of great
apes—encouraging excellent medical care for them, from
which we can learn a lot, as we do from human
patients, and allowing research of the kind that would
be generally acceptable in humans." 

As battle-ready and absolutist in their arguments as
the researchers and protesters seemed before the
conference, the media setup for the conference was
ugly and unfair. On Oct. 5, The Seattle Times ran an
op-ed piece by UW's Cynthia Pekow, who serves as the
AALAS president, headlined, "Standing up to animal
terrorists." Of course, there are animal-rights
extremists who have engaged in arson, property damage,
and harassment of researchers and businesses connected
with researchers over the past 20 years. Such acts
typically have been the work either of the underground
Animal Liberation Front or, more recently, the Stop
Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) campaign. SHAC's
efforts have mostly been focused on other parts of the

What Pekow did was lump the extremists of the
animal-rights movement in with what she called
"locally based animal-rights groups." That's a clear
reference to the Northwest Animal Rights Network
(NARN). For two decades, the group has been a constant
in Seattle, whether protesting fur coats in front of
Nordstrom or picketing at UW researchers' homes,
performed with nary a hint of violence or terrorism. 

Three days later, Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist
Susan Paynter ignorantly predicted that the
animal-rights crowd would throw objects—"a drink, or
something less pleasant"—at researchers during the
conference, and that those protesters would be from
the universe of animal-rights extremists. According to
NARN, which was the only group organizing protests
during the conference, Paynter never contacted them.
Local TV newscasts quickly framed the issue as Mayhem
in Our Streets. Even Susan Adler, executive director
of the Northwest Association for Biomedical Research
and a long-time opponent of animal-rights activists,
said Seattle's media had lost their compass and were
ignoring the science that researchers were discussing
at the conference. 

THERE WERE NO acts of terrorism. Andrew Knight, a
veterinarian who recently took over as the effective
day-to-day head of NARN, led 11 protesters in a "home
demo" in front of the Northeast Seattle home of UW
AIDS researcher Charles Alpers, who uses monkeys in
his work. They stood in the cold on the sidewalk and
held signs. Through a bullhorn, Knight announced to
neighbors that after at least 15 years of using
monkeys, chimpanzees, and mice in pursuit of a vaccine
to prevent HIV, science had come up largely empty.
That's further proof, Knight said, of the false
promise of the animal model. 

At the Convention Center, upward of 30 Seattle police
officers kept a watchful eye on protesters, who
numbered 17 at the most. Cameras from all four Seattle
news stations were there, eager to capture the clash
of absolutes. Instead, NARN turned the media circus to
its comic advantage. On Oct. 12, the demonstrators
stood before the Convention Center wearing
hand-lettered T-shirts reading, "Animal rights
terrorist, arrest me!" complete with a smiley face.
They also wore Zorro masks, purchased from a toy
store. Not everyone got the joke. During its 11 p.m.
newscast that night, a KIRO-TV anchor, in recapping
the day's events, said in a concerned, parental tone,
"Some wore masks," as if the demonstrators were a
collection of window-smashing anarchists. 

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