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Stop wasting tax dollars on chimp abuse

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Stop wasting tax dollars on chimp abuse

Eric Kleiman | In Defense of Animals

last updated: November 22, 2011

The National Institutes of Health wants you to believe that chimpanzee experimentation is necessary. It so badly wants you to believe this that the agency just two months ago began to use your tax dollars to fund a propaganda campaign for "educating the public" regarding the "importance of chimpanzees in biomedical research."

Why is the NIH seemingly so desperate? Perhaps because the concept of ending this morally and scientifically bankrupt practice has become so mainstream, on so many fronts - scientific, political, ethical, financial- that on Sept. 28, Scientific American, the most prestigious general interest science magazine in the world, called for a ban, explaining, "Why it is time to end invasive biomedical research on chimpanzees."

One of the major reasons for its call for the ban was the groundbreaking McClatchy Newspapers special report "Chimps: Life in the Lab," published last April. This special report was based on McClatchy's independent review of thousands of pages of chimpanzee medical records.

Scientific American noted that the special report's review of these records and the details of experiments "painted a grim picture of life in the lab, noting disturbing psychological responses in the chimps."

The NIH's use of tax dollars to fund the abuse of chimpanzees, as documented in McClatchy's special report, is especially timely. Congress has created a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to produce a plan by November 23 to reduce our debt by at least $1.2 trillion over 10years. The NIH spends more than $30 million annually on chimpanzee experimentation; ending it would save more than $300 million. It would also be completely consistent with the emerging scientific, political and ethical consensus elucidated by Scientific American: "The time has come to end biomedical experimentation on chimpanzees."

But the NIH seems stuck in a different time - circa 1970s, when the current chief of hepatitis research at the NIH, Dr. Robert Purcell, began experimenting on chimpanzees, as did his counterpart at the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Stephen Feinstone.


Just as he has done in scientific papers, Dr. Purcell, who personifies the anachronistic mind-set of the NIH, the agency pushing the chimpanzee "model," referred to chimpanzees as "it" - things, furry test tubes - in his presentation to the committee.

In stark contrast, at the same workshop, the director of HCV Biology for GlaxoSmithKline, the program officer for research and development at the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and the director for drug safety assessment at Genentech testified that chimpanzees are not needed for development of cutting-edge therapies such as monoclonal antibodies and vaccines for diseases such as malaria.


Even the FDA - which produced a letter supporting the NIH's propaganda campaign - does not require chimpanzee data to approve vaccines or therapies.

In September, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that a petition requesting that captive chimpanzees be classified as "endangered" - which would effectively end chimpanzee experimentation - presented "substantial" evidence that such are classification may be warranted, and initiated a review of the classification that includes a call for public comments by Jan. 31,2012.


The emerging scientific, ethical and political consensus is clear: the time has indeed come to end experimentation on our closest genetic relatives. The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction can make that consensus a reality while saving U.S. taxpayers $300 million.


Eric Kleiman is research director of In Defense of Animals; he initiatedthe Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the NIH that resulted inthe release of thousands of pages of chimpanzee medical records.

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