Tag Archives: hsus

Fair partners in dialogue: Starting assumptions matter and they should be spelled out

The importance and need for civil, open dialogue about the complex set of issues involved in use of animals is among the points of agreement between members of the scientific community, the public, animal rights activists, and others.  Speaking of Research, along with others, has consistently advocated for such dialogue and has engaged in it via a number of venues, including our blog, public events, conference presentations, and articles.

Such dialogue often takes place without clear specification of the starting positions held by the people engaged in the conversation. The problem with this approach was recently highlighted by Dario Ringach in his posts about a series of public forums on ethics and animal research (here, here, here).

The basic position of those engaged in animal research is obvious in part by the nature of their work. Furthermore, the very structure of the current regulations and practices reflect– both implicitly and explicitly– a set of positions on the ethical and moral considerations relevant to the use of animals in research.

For example, in the U.S., the laws and regulations that govern animal research mandate that proposals for use of vertebrate animals (including rats, mice, birds) provide, among other things:  1) a justification of the potential benefits of the work; 2) an identification of potential harms and means to reduce them; 3) evidence that alternatives to using animals are unavailable; 4) use of the least complex  species; and 5) much detail about the animals’ care and treatment, including the qualifications and training of the personnel involved.  Consideration of these issues occurs not only at the stage of IACUC evaluation, but throughout the scientists’ selection of questions and studies to pursue, peer review and selection of projects for funding (more here). Furthermore, the entirety of the project must proceed in compliance with a thorough set of regulations designed on the basis of the 3 Rs – reduce, replace, and refine (for more about regulation see here, more about 3 Rs, here).

In other words, while there is always room for continued improvement, the structure is designed to require that the major ethical and moral considerations relevant to animal research be addressed by those involved in performing and overseeing the work. This structure also incorporates explicit consideration of changes that arise from new knowledge.  That includes evolving knowledge about different species’ capacities and needs, as well as the development of alternatives to animal-based studies for particular uses.  It also includes  advances in our scientific understanding that demonstrate greater need for basic research that requires use of animals to address key questions.

One of the important purposes of dialogue is to communicate diverse viewpoints and values on animal research. One key to understanding those viewpoints and values is consideration of the basic starting assumptions, or positions, from which they arise.

What are the positions of those who oppose laboratory animal research?  In some cases, these are clearly stated.  In the case of absolutists, the position is that no matter what potential benefit the work may result in, no use of animals is morally justified. This extends across all animals – from fruit-fly to primate. Furthermore, all uses of animals, regardless of whether there are alternatives and regardless of the need, are treated identically. In other words, the use of a mouse in research aimed at new discoveries to treat childhood disease is considered morally equivalent to the use of a cow to produce hamburger, the use of an elephant in a circus, or a mink for a fur coat.

In this framework, the focus often excludes consideration of the harms that would accrue as a consequence of enacting the animal rights agenda. For example, the harm to both humans and other animals of foregoing research or intervening on behalf of animals.  As a result, while the absolutist position is often represented as one that involves only benefits and no harms, this is a false representation. While some animal rights groups are clear about their absolutist position, others—to our knowledge—are not.

On the other hand are those who avoid identifying directly with an absolutist position, but instead focus on the need for development of alternatives to use of animals.  This is a goal that may be widely desired and shared. It does not, however, address the question of what should be done in absence of alternatives and in light of current needs that can only be addressed by animal studies. In turn then, this position is silent with respect to moral and ethical consideration of a broad swath of research and fails to offer a framework to guide current actions.

We believe that the goal of promoting better dialogue would be assisted by making these positions clear and we provide a starting place below.  We welcome additions by individuals and groups, as well as clarification or correction if any are unintentionally misrepresented.

_______________________

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Offers clear statement of absolutist position. “PETA has always been known for uncompromising, unwavering views on animal rights. PETA was founded in 1980 and is dedicated to establishing and defending the rights of all animals. PETA operates under the simple principle that animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment.”

In Defense of Animals:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.  “We work to expose and end animal experimentation”

New England Anti-Vivisection Society:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position. “Is NEAVS against all animal experiments? Yes. For ethical, economic and scientific reasons, NEAVS is unequivocally opposed to all experiments on animals and works to replace them with humane and scientifically superior alternatives that are more relevant and predictive for humans.”

Alliance for Animals (Madison, WI):  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.  “It is Alliance for Animals’ guiding principle that all animals, human and nonhuman, should never be treated as the property of another.” AFA is a non-profit 501(c)3 animal rights organization whose fundamental belief is that all animals, human and nonhuman, should not be treated as the property of another.

Stop Animal Exploitation Now:  Offers clear statement of absolutist position.“Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation.”  And: “To promote through education the prevention of suffering and cruelty to any of God’s creatures, human or otherwise, including, but not limited to their diet, their health, and their living conditions. To promote through education the elimination of the use of animals in biomedical research and testing, their use as food, or their use for any and all commercial purposes; and to protect the environment in which we all live, so that no living beings suffer from its destruction or pollution.”

Humane Society of the United States:  Does not, to our knowledge, offer a clear position on whether it is morally acceptable to use animals in research when there is no alternative. What they do say“As do most scientists, The HSUS advocates an end to the use of animals in research and testing that is harmful to the animals. Accordingly, we strive to decrease and eventually eliminate harm to animals used for these purposes.”

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:  Does not, to our knowledge, offer a clear position on whether it is morally acceptable to use animals in research when there is no alternative.  What they do say“We promote alternatives to animal research and animal testing.”

_______________________

For those engaged in dialogue about the ethical and moral considerations related to the use of non-human animals in research , even this brief list makes clear that it is important to ask participants to begin by putting their basic starting assumption forward.  Why?  For one reason, because those assumptions are key to identifying whether there are potential areas of agreement or none at all.

For example, discussing refinement of laboratory animal care with an absolutist—someone fundamentally opposed to animals in laboratories—misses the point. No amount of refinement would make the work acceptable to them. In this case, the more critical questions for discussion would include consideration of the relative harms and benefits of failing to perform research for which there are currently no alternatives to animal-based studies.  Consideration of species’ capacities and criteria for differential status– if any– would also be a useful starting point.

What about dialogue with those individuals and groups who do not provide a clear position?  Does it matter?  Some would argue that it does not because the dialogue is only concerned with animal welfare and with reducing harm to nonhuman animals, or with pushing forward to develop non-animal alternatives for some types of research. In fact, framed in this way, most scientists are not only in the same camp, but are also the people who work actively to produce evidence-based improvements in welfare and development of successful alternatives.

The problem, however, is that real-time, critical decision-making about human use of other animals in research is not simple.  It does require serious, fact-based consideration of the full range of harms and benefits, including consideration of the welfare of both human and nonhuman animals.  It also requires clarity about alternatives, where they exist and where they do not.  And it requires some understanding of the time-scales in which knowledge unfolds – often decades – and a basic appreciation for the scientific process.

It is easy to argue that developing non-animal alternatives should be prioritized. But this argument does little to address the question of what to do now, what we do in absence of these alternatives, and what choices we should make as a society. Those questions are at the center of dialogue and the core issues with which the scientific community and others wrestle.  To address them productively, and in a way that considers the public interest in both the harms and benefits of research, requires articulation of starting assumptions and foundational views.

Allyson J. Bennett

Statement on Harvard’s Decision to Close the New England Primate Research Center

Speaking of Research is saddened to learn about Harvard’s decision to wind down operations at the New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC) within the next two years.

Over the years the Primate Center has contributed important discoveries in many fields, including AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, primate retroviruses, addiction, cardiology and stem cells.

The University cited difficult financial times and shifting long-term strategic plans as the reason for the closing.  Meanwhile animal right activists groups fought among themselves to take credit for Harvard’s decision.

Perhaps a combination of both, the planned closure is a reflection of decreasing Federal support for medical research and a growing anti-scientific movement in the United States and elsewhere.

In Harvard’s decision one can find many lessons for the scientific community, NIH and the public at large, which are likely to be the subject of debate and discussion in the near future. The wider research community will need work together with faculty and staff at NEPRC to ensure that Harvard Medical school keeps to its commitment to provide full support to them during this transition, so that vital research programs and gifted personnel are not lost to science.

For now Speaking of Research join others in expressing our surprise and disappointment at these developments, and offer our support for the scientists, staff and others affected by these events.

Speaking of Research

Conspiracy and greed

Opponents of the use of animals in medical research have difficulty reconciling their claim that the scientific work is invalid and fraudulent with the fact that it has wide support among the scientific community and professional organizations.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 93% of scientists favor the use of animals in scientific research. There are more scientists who favor animal research than those that believe in evolution (87%), global warming (84%) or that parents should vaccinate their children (82%).

Major professional organizations, including the American Academy of Neurology, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Heart Association, the Society for Neuroscience, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and the American Medical Association, have formal statements in support of the research.

Thus, the animal right activist then has to confront a puzzle.  If the science is so obviously wrong and fraudulent, as the cranks among them argue, why do all these scientists insist on doing the work?

Their answer is….   conspiracy and greed!

The animal right activist concludes that all all these scientists must be conspiring with the National Institutes of Health, the USDA, pharmaceutical companies, public health officials and, of course, our representatives in Congress to keep up, in their words, “the business of killing animals for money well and alive.”

Animal rights physician Dr. Greek’s writes:

The animal-based research engine is fueled by the same forces of human nature that have harmed people since the dawn of time: ignorance, greed, ego, self-preservation and fear.

Mr. Rick Bogle, argues along the same lines:

It’s common to hear vivisectors in academic settings say that they could make much more money in the private sector. They make this claim to show that they are genuinely altruists and that greed isn’t what motivates them.

Such assertions fall apart when one considers what a career in science truly entails.  Going into science is a hard, long and arduous process. Even after paying your way through 4-5 years of college, and spending another 4-6 years of graduate studies on a stipend of about $25,000 a year, you can expect and additional 5-7 years of postdoctoral work where you will be earning an average of $42,000 a year.

As one postdoctoral fellow lamented:

It is incomprehensible that you spend 10 years of your life educating yourself and then you are earning the same amount as a bus driver

Before you are ready to find a job in academia as an assistant professor, you are likely to find yourself married, in your 30s, and perhaps raising a child on an annual income of about $45,000.  Finally, after all these years of studying and doing research, and if you are good enough to obtain a job in a major academic institution, you can then expect to earn an average of about $88,000 a year. And when can new assistant professors expect to get their first federal grant from NIH? The average age is about 43 years.

So yes, after a lifetime of commitment to their disciplines a scientist can make a good living.  But does the picture above support the notion that these individuals are driven by greed?  I do not think so.

Scientists are usually drawn to their fields early in life, as kids curious about nature, eager to learn how things work, and amazed at how science has changed their world compared to the one their parents and grandparents lived in.

Can anyone in their right mind think that a child that goes into the science club or enrolls in biology honors class while thinking “This is great, I am going to get rich doing this stuff!” ‘

Can anyone in their right mind think that a greedy parent, who tries to steer a child to a particular career, will tell their child to go into cell biology instead of becoming an surgeon or going to work in Wall Street?

Can anyone in their right mind think that hundreds of thousand of people are conspiring to keep the secret that animal research is useless but we keep doing it because this is the only thing we know how to do?

No, nobody in their right mind would actually think so. And this conclusion, of course, has an obvious corollary… and it makes for some good laughs too (you must watch this Jon Stewart video).

Animal rights activists are also prone to make quick judgements without knowledge. Rick Bogle, like many of their animal rights associates, is a nice example.  He writes:

Another strong piece of evidence that seems to show that vivisectors are driven by greed rather than altruism is the comparison between them and doctors, nurses, and teachers when it comes to volunteerism. [...] Doctors, nurses, and teachers are well represented among the ranks of volunteers around the world. Nurses and teachers are common in the Peace Corps. Doctors Without Borders is known around the world for its humanitarian efforts. Not so much with vivisectors.

What is the “strong piece of evidence” he talks about?  What should be evident to anyone is that a central part of a university mission is to encourage its members to participate in voluntary community service.  At UCLA we run literacy campaigns, book drives, food banks, blood donation events, clean up of parks and beaches, and have numerous outreach programs. We also host volunteer day, and you can easily search and join us in the many ongoing activities we have at the moment.  The data show that a whooping 84% of incoming college students perform voluntary work in their first year at our institutions. What about the doctors and nurses that Bogles acknowledges engage in voluntary work?  Well — they trained with us. Bogle’s “strong piece of evidence” is nothing but a delusion created to sustain a conviction that scientists must have ulterior motives for doing their work.

While we are on this topic it would be helpful to examine the claim by animal rights activists who argue they care deeply not only for the animals but for humans as well.  That argue they support both human and animal rights.

If that were the case one would expect to see as much support for the leading animal rights organizations than for the leading human rights organizations. Instead, what we observe is that PeTA and HSUS have both about 1.5 million “likes” on Facebook while Amnesty International has less than half a million.  What we see is that HSUS receives about $150 million in contributions a year, while Amnesty International receives less than $50 million.

These indicators suggest that animal rights activists do not really care for humans as much as they care for animals. They reinforce this notion when they repeatedly insist that those with vested interest in animal research are the scientists, leaving our patients and their families out of consideration.

The Golden Goose Awards

Politicians sometimes deride research based on the what they perceive as being “silly” titles of federal funded grants.  If they spot a title that deals with “games”, for example, they may assume it deals with some sort of amusement of little value to society, instead of a deep, powerful branch of mathematics that describes the behavior of competing rational agents with much relevance to voting, economics, cooperation, and so on.  Animal rights activists also enjoy the hobby.  The latest example is IDA’s list of “ridiculous research” ,whose claims were sadly repeated by far too many news journalists who were clearly too lazy check if they were accurate.  There were some honorable exceptions, notably an excellent editorial entitled “When the facts ruin a good spin” in the Times Union, which discusses a project on the role of music as a conditioning stimulus for drug use ends with a statement with which we heartily agree:

What’s “ridiculous,” to borrow the press release’s language, is that we fall for it, over and over, egged on by politicians eager to score easy points. And what’s “wasteful” is the time and energy that could be so much better spent on something other than a cheap shot.”

Back in 1976 the House Committee on Appropriations asked the National Science Foundation “Why does the Foundation persist in supporting research whose results have no apparent value to the American people?”  The NSF responded in part that:

Basic research seeks an understanding  of the laws of nature  without  initial  regard  for specific  utilitarian  value. Ultimately, however, it  is of the  most important  practical significance, because in a broad sense it is the foundation upon  which rests  all technological development.  Applied research builds on the results of basic research, seeking detailed  information  about  a specific situation  whose general laws have  been  discovered by  basic  research.  The  final step  toward  utilization  of research-development is  the systematic  application  of knowledge to  the  design  of  end products. [...]

As we  increase  our  knowledge  of nature  and  mankind,  in order  to adjust  nature  to our survival, safety,  comfort and convenience, we must  depend  upon  scientific research  to clarify the  relationships  of many, many things.  Thus,  we study  atoms,  even  though  they  will never  be seen  by an  unaided  human  eye.  We study  stars  too  faint  to  be  seen without  a  telescope  and  with  wavelengths  which  can  only be  detected  with  radio  receivers  or  photographic  plates. To  understand  geology, we must  look  at  geologic formations  and processes in many  parts  of the world where different  conditions have existed.  To understand  more about the  phenomena  of life, we must  study  the  behavior  of viruses,  single  cells,  plants,  and  animals  of  many  species.

A book was compiled covering various areas of research with Isaac Asimov writing an essay defending the value of basic research.

Thus, it was with some surprise and delight that we read in the news about Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn) understanding the value of basic research.  The Washington Post reports that:

On Wednesday afternoon, Cooper rose to the defense of taxpayer-funded research into dog urine, guinea pig eardrums and, yes, the reproductive habits of the parasitic flies known as screwworms–all federally supported studies that have inspired major scientific breakthroughs.

Together with two colleagues he created the Annual Golden Goose Awards to honor federally funded research  “whose work may once have been viewed as unusual, odd, or obscure, but has produced important discoveries benefiting society in significant ways.”

Studying dog urine, among other stuff deem crazy by animal rights cranks, led to major medical discoveries

The article goes on to describe how research on dog urine led to an understanding of the effects of hormones on the human kidney, how studies in the guinea pig led to a treatment for hearing loss in infants, and how studies on the screwworm led to the effective control of the a deadly parasite that targets cattle.  All these provide additional examples refuting the notion that learning about life processes from animals cannot yield knowledge applicable to human health.

The Golden Goose Award has the backing of the American Association for the Advancement of ScienceAssociation of American Universities (who in 2011 published a series of “Scientific Inquirer” articles skewering dubious politically-motivated attacks on basic science) and the Progressive Policy Institute, who are to be congratulated for this excellent initiative to highlight the importance of basic research.

At the press conference to launch the award Rep. Robert Dold told reporters that “When we invest in science, we also invest in jobs. Research and development is a key part to any healthy economy,” while  Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Penn.) added “It’s critical, and the federal government has an important role to play,” who went on to describe how injecting horses with snake venom might “seem peculiar” but led to the discovery of the first anti-venom.

Taking us, once again, to the concluding words of Asimov’s essay:

Unless we continue with science and gather knowledge, whether or not it seems useful on the spot, we will be buried under our problems and find no way out.  Today’s science is tomorrow’s solution — and tomorrow’s problems , too — and, most of all, it is mankind’s greatest adventure, now and forever.

A welcome end to random-source dog and cat dealers

The National Institutes of Health has announced that starting October 1, 2012, NIH funds may no longer be used to buy cats from Class B dealers. A similar prohibition in the purchase of dogs from Class B dealers takes effect in 2015.

Although dogs and cats constitute only small percentage of research animals, they have been used in American biomedical research for over a century for studies of cardiovascular and neurological diseases, and for other areas of research including recent studies that led to a gene therapy for the eye disease Leber’s congenital amaurosis, whose success was reported widely last week.  The use of these animals is tightly regulated by the Animal Welfare Act, and they are only employed for studies where lower species do not provide adequate models.

Class B dealers are individuals licensed by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act to resell animals they did not breed themselves. Class A dealers are breeders who do raise the animals themselves. Class B dealers may purchase dogs and cats from sources such as municipal pounds, from individuals who bred and raised the animals, and from other licensed dealers. They are required to keep records on where they got each animal and to hold pound animals for a minimum period so that if an unwanted animal was actually a stray, the owner has time to reclaim it.

Animal statistics in 2010 (US data) - Dogs account of 0.25% and cats 0.08% of the total number of animals used.

Class B dealers used to provide a large number of cats and dogs for research because they were virtually the only source for older animals and for some breeds. Regrettably, some Class B dealers used practices that violated the Animal Welfare Act both in terms of how they acquired animals and how they treated them.  The National Academies of Science studied the specific areas of science where Class B dogs and cats were being used and concluded that NIH could develop alternate supply mechanisms to replace them. NIH decided the best way to facilitate the transition was to provide an initial outlay of funds so that Class A dealers could begin raising older dogs of the breeds required for scientific research. It is expected that these breeders will be able to produce the necessary animals by 2015.

After October 1, 2012, NIH-grant supported research can only use cats from the following sources: Class A dealers, privately owned research colonies, or client owned animals, such as animals that participate in veterinary clinical trials.  The same policy will apply to dogs in 2015 when the Class A breeding program is in full swing.

The transition of NIH-funded research away from the use of Class B dogs and cats is an example of how measures can be taken to correct ethical problems regarding the treatment of animals.  When ethical concerns exist, thoughtful and deliberate steps can address those concerns, while preserving important biomedical research projects.

Bill Yates and Alice Ra’anan.

Bill Yates is the Chair of American Physiological Society Animal Care and Experimentation Committee. Alice Ra’anan is Director of Science Policy for the American Physiological Society. The views expressed above are exclusively those of Bill Yates and Alice Ra’anan and do not necessarily represent those of their employers.

Ignorance or Deception?

Animal rights activists may want to start cooling down their engines.

Apparently, by 2050 we can expect the complete elimination of animal use in science.

At least, this is the prediction made by Dr. Andrew Rowan, Chief Scientific Officer of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in a recent article that appeared in The Scientist.

The title of the piece was “Avoiding Animal Testing.  Advances in cell-culture technologies are paving the way to the complete elimination of animals from laboratories”.

The first half of the article focuses on the development and adoption of alternatives to the use of animals in toxicology.  Our public health officials and the FDA have long made the sensible decision to require any company that introduces new chemicals or drugs into the market to provide an initial experimental assessment of their potential toxicity to humans.

This use of animals for such safety screening is typically called animal testing.

Dr. Rowan correctly points out that advances in the development toxicology methods may allow us eventually to relax the regulations that require the use of animals in testing.  But he rapidly moves to insinuate such advances imply that by 2050 we could see the end of animal use in laboratories:

This overall decline in animal use can be attributed to the advent of novel technologies such as improved cell-culture systems and micro-analytic techniques; more sophisticated model systems; improved understanding of signaling and metabolic pathways; and a host of other new methods that allow scientists to answer important questions about the functioning of healthy and diseased tissues without subjecting whole animals to harmful procedures. With a 50 percent decline in animal research since 1975, we are roughly at the halfway point towards the complete elimination of animal research. Thus, we argue that, by 2050, we might finally see the last of animal use in the laboratory, particularly if all stakeholders put their minds to it.

First, the assertion that the total use of animals is systematically declining is not supported by the data.  The slide below, for example, was taken from a recent talk Dr. Rowan gave at the University of Wisconsin.  It shows the total number of animals used has been stable since the mid 80s, with the number of non-genetically modified (Non-GM, faint dashed line) animals decreasing and stabilizing in the 90s (see also data here), while the number of  genetically modified (GM) animals, which are largely mice, has been systematically increasing.

Second, even if correctly asserting that we can expect a diminished need for animals in toxicology testing, Dr. Rowan’s generalization of such trend from a such narrow field to all of biomedical research is groundless and misleading.

Let us be clear, our universities do not engage in animal testing, but in animal research.

What’s the difference?

Scientists are largely concerned with elucidating the basic mechanisms of biological processes in health and disease.  We want to study how cells in our bodies work, how they communicate, how they develop, how they age and how they die.   We want to understand how the brain, our immune system, and internal organs work and how they fail.  And so on…

Why is it critical we develop such an understanding?

Because without this knowledge there will be no hope to combat disease. Indeed, the mission of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognizes this fundamental fact in its opening statement,

NIH’s mission is to seek fundamental knowledge about the nature and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life and reduce the burdens of illness and disability.

Implicit in such declaration is the acknowledgment that it is basic knowledge that drives advancements in human health and well-being.  Basic knowledge of nature is what drives progress.  This point is critical —   translational or applied research would not exist without basic knowledge as the raw material.  Without knowledge there would be nothing to translate nor apply.

Those that declare an imminent end to the use of animals in science are effectively implying that they envisage all basic knowledge needed will be acquired by a certain date, or that we will have methods that would allow us to proceed with studies non-invasively in human volunteers. Dr. Rowan’s statement that “Advances in cell-culture technologies are paving the way to the complete elimination of animals from laboratories” is nothing short of utter scientific nonsense.

Is it possible for Dr. Rowan to be ignorant of the role of animals in scientific research?  Could he legitimately be confused about the difference between safety testing on one hand and the development of therapies and basic research on the other?

This seems highly unlikely giving his academic credentials and the fact that he has served on IACUCs before.  In fact, another slide from his talk, shows him delineating these different uses of animals, and illustrating that animal testing for human safety accounts for merely ~25% of total animal use.

No, Dr. Rowan is not confused at all.  He knows what he is talking about.  This is unfortunate as one can only conclude his article is simply a misguided attempt to deceive the public about the fields in which we might realistically expect science to successfully replace animals in the near future.

And I emphasized science above for a good reason.

As difficult as it is for animal advocates to understand, scientists also believe we will see a day when we can eliminate the use of animals in all animal research.  And the day will arrive because of the hard work, progress and achievements of dedicated scientists, such as this one, and not because of deception of those that want to oppose animal research at all cost.

For HSUS to suggest that all animal research could be eliminated by 2050 is  flatly wrong from a scientific point of view, and utterly irresponsible from a public health perspective.

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

Opponents of animal research should refuse medical treatment

In a new post, animal rights activist Rick Bogle bemoans that his side is often challenged with a natural question:

“Would you forgo medical treatment developed through animal research?”

We can safely assume that the vast majority of those that oppose animal research do not have any qualms about vaccinating their children and companion animals or that, in case of an accident, would rush to the nearest emergency room to be treated with the benefits of animal research.

Are they not hypocrites?

Mr. Bogle doesn’t think so.  In response he writes that to live true to our own challenge scientists must refuse all benefits obtained in ways we consider unethical as well.

Namely, he challenges us back with: (a) not traveling on roads built by slaves — if we really oppose slavery, (b) refusing the care of a doctor whose education was based partly on knowledge obtained by  Nazi physicians — if we truly oppose the Holocaust, and (c) for our daughters and wives to forgo gynecological care — as many of its techniques were apparently developed by Dr. J. Marion Sims using non-consenting human subjects.

This is a flawed argument.

It is clear that none of the unethical practices Mr. Bogle mentions are accepted nor widespread today.  Thus, by traveling on a road built by slaves one is not actively supporting slavery.  By accepting gynecological care, one is not actively supporting experiments in non-consenting human subjects.  And so on.

In contrast, the use of animals in medical research today is ubiquitous.  Animal research provides medical benefits that translate into longer and healthier lives.  There is a public demand for such benefits. If the desire for living longer and healthier lives vanished tomorrow, so would animal research, along with the rest of medical research.

Mr. Bogle’s challenge rests on a false analogy.

A proper analogy would be the following.  Suppose you oppose child and forced labor practices and you discover that a particular US company manufactures its products overseas under such labor conditions.

Would you still buy form such a company?  Is there any way in which you can rightfully say that you morally oppose forced labor but are nevertheless entitled to benefit from the cheap prices the company has to offer?

Of course not.

If you buy from such a company you are a hypocrite to the full extent of the word, as you are actively supporting, financing and perpetuating a practice you consider immoral.

Ethical principles are supposed to guide one’s moral judgements.  If you have strong moral principles you want to impart on the rest of society, you better be the first to be prepared to accept the consequences of such principles.

Mr. Bogle and his ilk should stop benefiting from our research immediately.

They should live by their beliefs, and we can help.

Until then, they are nothing more than hypocrites.