What Cost Savings? A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011

The status and future of chimpanzee research in the US are at the heart of much discussion lately in both scientific and public (also here and here) spheres.  A committee convened by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to consider the issue held a number of meetings and is expected to report its findings to the NIH by the end of this year. Legislation to end great ape research, also introduced in 2007 and 2009 (H.R. 1513: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011;  S. 810: Great Ape  Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011; GAPA), was again introduced last Spring. This is the fourth of a series of posts aimed at encouraging thoughtful and fact-based consideration of the full range of complex issues associated with chimpanzee research and both short- and long-term responsibility for their welfare, care and housing. Posts include:

08/12/11: Facts must inform discussion of future of chimpanzee research.

10/13/11: Joseph M. Erwin, PhD Efforts to ban chimpanzee research are misguided.

11/21/11: A closer look at the Great Ape Protection Act.

Previous posts and other discussions of chimpanzee research have focused on ethical questions, animal welfare, and ongoing evaluation of the role chimpanzees do play, or should play, in scientific research.  These are the most important issues to address in discussion of the future of great apes in the U.S. At the same time, this year’s version of the Great Ape Protection Act has included a new focus, with addition of the phrase “and Cost Savings.”  The new language and the calculations given as basis for its assertions have received relatively little careful broad discussion or evaluation.

According to cost analysis for the legislation compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, the majority of cost-savings from GAPA – 76% – would result from ending federal grants for projects involving chimpanzees.  Of the “nearly $30 million saved annually” over $22 million reflects funds committed to support research projects that involve chimpanzees and are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

HSUS GAPA Cost Analysis

It appears that this number was arrived at by summing the cost of all NIH grants that involve chimpanzees, regardless of their topic or the types of activities in which the animals are engaged. Whether this number could reflect the total funds invested in what is commonly considered invasive research is not readily apparent. Some of these grants may involve noninvasive studies, others may be dedicated to studies that require as little as samples of DNA—something commonly done in human studies. It does appear that the underlying assumption for the cost analysis is a complete block on any NIH research grants that involve chimpanzees. (We welcome correction if this is not an assumption of the HSUS analysis or any cost analysis used to support the claims associated with GAPA.)

The remaining savings are projected from reduction in care costs if the animals were moved to sanctuaries.  Whether sanctuaries provide lower-cost care than research facilities is subject to some debate, in part because care costs vary across facilities. This is illustrated in the most recent data published by the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) October 31, 2011 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees:”

Based on the most recent awards and payments, NIH is spending an average of $35 per day per chimpanzee in research facilities; $67.00 per day per chimpanzee in the research reserve facility at Alamogordo Primate Facility (APF); and $47 per day per chimpanzee in the federal sanctuary facility operated by Chimp Haven. The average for research facilities becomes $44 per day if the research reserve facility at APF is included. See Table 1 for detailed figures.”

The reasons for variance in costs are complex. Among other things, they do not reflect differences in housing, clinical care, or health status of the animals (e.g., older animals or animals with chronic health problems may require more expensive treatment and care). But overall, the numbers reported by NCRR show a rough equivalence in care costs at the federal sanctuary and many research facilities.

Table 1 “Costs for Maintaining Humane Care and Welfare of Chimpanzees, October 31, 2011

Research

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

NIRC

117

1.23

28.8

K-CCMR

154

2.56

45.5

SNPRC (P51)

125

1.02

22.4

SNPRC (U42)

25

.047

56.3

Total

(421)

(5.3)

(34.5)

Research Reserve

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

APF

173

4.25

67.4

Federal Sanctuary

Facility

# of Chimpanzees,
as of 10/31/11
(total)

NCRR cost*,
$M/year
(total)

NCRR cost,
$/animal/day,
(avg)

Chimp
Haven

119

2.03

46.7

What is not shown by these numbers or by most of the discussion of GAPA are the number of other issues that should accompany thoughtful consideration of the long-term care and housing of chimpanzees.  Dr. Joseph Erwin provided commentary on many of these in a previous guest post, among them concerns about ensuring the highest quality of care for the animals:

Most chimpanzees in scientific and educational institutions (research colonies and zoological gardens) live in spacious, social, and secure environments, where they are provided with excellent professional healthcare, and are afforded protection under the Animal Welfare Act, through inspection by the USDA, and publicly available reports of those inspections. The legislative ban would require removal of chimpanzees from decent facilities that were built at great public expense, and would deposit hundreds of chimpanzees in “sanctuaries” that provide no assurance of competent professional care, are not subject to Animal Welfare Act protection, and are not publicly transparent.”

One of the biggest unanswered (and virtually unmentioned in public spheres) questions surrounding the effects of this legislation is where it is that these chimpanzees would go? Is the intent that they would stay in current facilities? That new facilities would be constructed? While some animal rights groups have advocated for moving chimpanzees from their current research facilities to Chimp Haven, there is little information that would indicate that is a feasible option. Nor do the discussions of cost-savings and future plans include information about projected costs to build sufficient sanctuary space that could accommodate the number of animals currently housed in research facilities.

This is a non-trivial issue. For example, the publicly-available NCRR cost information informs us that the cost to construct the only federally-funded chimpanzee sanctuary, Chimp Haven, was $11.8 million. Chimp Haven houses 130 animals.  In other words, the initial construction cost was just over $90,000 per chimpanzee.

There are an additional 594 NIH-supported chimpanzees currently housed in research facilities. There are also hundreds of privately-owned chimpanzees. Thus, on even rough calculation based on the construction cost of Chimp Haven, it would appear that at least many millions of dollars would be required to extend the capacity for sanctuary housing to these animals. 

 

The cost, feasibility, and plan for constructing additional facilities that could provide care for these chimpanzees does not seem apparent in the cost calculations for the current legislation. Nor is it an issue raised much in public discussion.  It is a relatively easy thing to call for an end to chimpanzee research and to encourage public support by appealing to fiscal conservatism. What is far more challenging is to include consideration of real factors that significantly influence the outcomes for the animals, including an accurate assessment of where they can be housed, how best practices for care can be supported, real costs and dedicated sources of funding for long-term maintenance and facilities. Those details matter and deserve far more attention than they currently receive by those claiming to have chimpanzees’ welfare as the utmost priority.

Allyson J. Bennett

4 responses to “What Cost Savings? A Closer Look at the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act of 2011

  1. Interesting.

    In my opinion it is highly questionable as to whether ending funding for research projects involving chimpanzees is a real saving at all. After all if these funds, which are from a variety of NIH programs whose budgets are set before the grant applications are approved, are not spent on research involving chimpanzees they will be spent on other research projects (some no doubt using other animal species) so there will be no saving to the taxpayer.

    It is conceivable that the 22 million could be trimmed from the overall NIH budget, but this would be difficult to do implement due to the relatively small amounts involved for individual institutes, programs and budgets, and I seriously doubt that it will be a factor when setting overall NIH budgets.

    It could be considered a saving for the NIH, but the grants for chimpanzee research have either been selected as the result of a competitive application process, or following review in the case of a renewal of a grant, indicating that the NIH considers the research funded by these grants to be valuable. It seems somewhat perverse to suggest that forcing the NIH to stop funding research projects that it has decided are worth funding – having reviewed them alongside many other project applications using a wide variety of animal and non-animal based research techniques in a competitive process – is a somehow gain for the NIH. The NIH could “save “ many billions by halting all spending on medical research, but then what would be the point of the NIH?

    Individual research project funding should be excluded from any analysis of the cost of Chimpanzee research.

  2. HSUS is overestimating the costs savings due to unrealistic and erroneous assumptions about the real costs associated with managing chimpanzees, whether living in sanctuaries or research facilities. HSUS wants to put chimps in sanctuaries and not let them be used in research and would like NIH to foot the bill. NIH did that when they awarded Charles River the contract to manage the chimps in New Mexico and not allow any research with them. That turned out, by their own records, to be the MOST EXPENSIVE way to house chimpanzees. Moreover, contrary to the claims of HSUS and other organizations, those animals are not living in singly housed or small cages. Most are in social groups of comparable size to many of the chimp groups at some sanctuaries, such as Chimp Haven. Second, what drives up the price at some facilities is the maintenance and care of animals in true “biomedical” protocols. The appropriate cost comparison between Chimp Haven and other facilities is the costs Chimp Haven pays to care for the chronically sick or infected animals at their facility when compared to other facilities. I am sure it is very cheap to care for the groups living on the islands at Chimp Haven but I am sure it is much more expensive to house HIV or Hepatitis infected chimps at their facility. I am sure that the costs of maintaining chimpanzees at other facilities where the apes live in corrals or similar types of housing easily rivals or bests the average costs at Chimp Haven. Lastly, places like Chimp Haven have fewer costs because they do not need necropsy labs, blood analysis labs and significant veterinary care needs (indeed this is a big challenge at most sanctuaries. How do the apes get adequate medical care?). This certainly makes maintaining the animals cheaper but at the “cost” of probably poorer health care.

    Just retiring the animals seems really naive to me because, for many scientists working with chimpanzees, the research is non-invasive and continued NIH support for those projects would HELP financially support these animals. NIH is not going to simply walk away from doing ANY research with chimpanzees yet continue to spend money to care for and manage the apes they own that currently reside in different facilities. I do not see that as a very realistic outcome.

    The least expensive solution would be to invest funds to improve the housing and infrastructure of places that currently have chimps rather than build brand new facilities to subsequently warehouse the apes. Quite frankly, we need NIH to financially support chimpanzees because there is not enough funding in the private sector to care for all the chimps in captivity, whether owned by NIH or not. Most sanctuaries are full and face significant fund raising challenges, particularly in this weak economy. I have not read or seen anywhere that HSUS is willing to put their considerable endowment into supporting chimp sanctuaries, so it seems is bit hypocritical that they are advocating retiring all chimps.

    I think we can all agree that science and humankind has and will continue to benefit from the research that has been and will be conducted with chimpanzees. We should be able to find common ground on these principles and try to work toward the common good.

    • “Quite frankly, we need NIH to financially support chimpanzees because there is not enough funding in the private sector to care for all the chimps in captivity, whether owned by NIH or not. Most sanctuaries are full and face significant fund raising challenges, particularly in this weak economy.”

      Very true, earlier this week I read about a nonprofit sanctuary running out of funds, and it’s just one of many facing difficulties at the moment (as many charities are – no matter what the sector).

      http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=8457548

  3. The best option for the non-zoo chimpanzees would be support for long-term multidisciplinary studies of how chimpanzees age. These studies would be non-invasive (or minimally invasive, even under the definitions used by animal activists), not involving any procedures not commonly used for humans. Genomic characterization, along with proteomic and other phenotypic characterization, cognitive and social evaluations, etc., could be done, under the best of conditions. Occasional involvement in studies such as the development of an Ebola virus vaccine that could benefit wild chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas, could be very judiciously and carefully conducted. Post-mortem studies, such as the many neurobiology studies done as part of the Great Ape Aging Project, could be expanded to the benefit of chimpanzee and human health, as well as increasing fundamental knowledge of our closest biological relatives. Sadly, when this strategy was proposed more than a dozen years ago, it was rejected–so, the problem needlessly persists. Is it too late to embrace this attractive option? Maybe. Probably. Are there people out there who are willing to push in this direction?