This one comes with a helping of déjà vu! On Friday, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW), published the results of an investigation into Primate Products, Inc. a facility in Hendry County, South Florida that breeds monkeys for medical research, including NIH funded research. The OLAW is the federal body responsible for monitoring compliance with the Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals that regulates animal research funded by US Government Offices and Agencies – including the NIH – and the breeders that supply animals for the research they conduct. The OLAW report (which you can download here) detailed the results on an investigation which was prompted by complaints submitted by the animal rights group PETA after one of their employees infiltrated Primate Products.
In a statement accompanying the publication of OLAW’s findings, as reported by News-Press.com, the federal agency commended Primate Products administration and its:
“dedicated and caring staff for promptly and thoroughly addressing all of the noncompliant items,” wrote the office’s Axel Wolff in an email. “We now find that your program is operating appropriately under monitored self-regulation … We appreciate your forthright communications and prompt responses to all questions and hereby close this investigation.”
The report cleared Primate Products of many allegations made by PeTA. The report also noted the efforts of Primate Products to address some breaches of regulations and to ensure that care provided to the animals meets the highest standards. Most of these were small technical changes to update training, reporting, or animal handling procedures, but also included the erection of an electric fence to prevent further intrusions following an unprecedented incident when a wild bear broke into the facility and killed several monkeys.
PETA’s allegations were reminiscent of the case a couple of years ago during PETA’s campaign against hearing research that involved cats at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where after a thorough investigation the OLAW cleared the researchers and University of the allegations made by PETA. They also remind us of the incident 5 years ago when another animal rights group (Stop Animal Exploitation Now) used leaked photos of monkeys undergoing appropriate veterinary care following fighting among group housed macaque monkeys (a normal, if infrequent, behaviour for the species) to make lurid allegations against Primate Products. On that occasion the USDA investigated the allegations, and cleared Primate Products of any wrongdoing, with USDA spokesperson Dave Sacks commenting:
It was a clean inspection report…there was nothing found that was against animal welfare regulations…Group housing of primates is allowed in the animal welfare regulations…with the mindset that’s more closely adapted to how they live in the wild. These animals do various fighting among themselves for hierarchy…so that will carry through to how they are housed…But if in those housing situations, if there is a monkey that gets injured, we require the facility to provide adequate care.”
As we’ve noted before, there’s a pattern in this. Animal rights groups have become adept in using infiltrations and Freedom of Information (FOI) record requests as the basis for (often spurious) complaints to the USDA or OLAW that they then use to gain publicity and organize campaigns against individual researchers, and raise funds for future “investigations.” It’s a tactic that isn’t limited to animal rights activists of course. Not far away from Hendry County, Dr. Kevin Folta, a University of Florida professor who studies plant genetics and who is a dedicated science communicator, has been targeted by a vicious FOI-driven campaign by opponents of genetic modification of crops. It’s a campaign that is clearly aimed at silencing someone who was a strong voice for science, and an illustration of how Freedom of Information can be used to attempt to suppress the Freedom of Speech of scientists at government funded Universities.
Given the risk that those targeted by campaigns such as PETA’s against Primate Products might decide to stay quiet, it’s reassuring to note that Dr. Jeff Rowell, a veterinarian and President of Primate Products, has a great record of explaining the work done by Primate Products and how it supports important research in Universities and other biomedical research institutions across the USA. An interview he gave to a local journalist earlier this year is a good example of this willingness to engage with the public.
These latest PETA allegations are unlikely to be the last made by animal rights groups against Primate Products, but it is heartening that the regulators are willing to take an honest and objective look at the evidence. In the meantime we hope that Jeff Rowell and his colleagues at Primate Products will continue to be vocal advocates for science, just as their work supports crucial medical research across the nation.
Speaking of Research