Animal Rights Groups Call for End to Primate Experimentation

At August’s Fifth World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, a number of animal rights groups signed on to a resolution calling for the worldwide end to all medical research involving primates.

Those agreeing to the resolution included the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Humane Society of the United States, and the German Animal Welfare Federation.

The full text of the resolution read,

Call to end the use of non-human primates in biomedical research
and testing from animal protection organisations worldwide
Berlin, August 2005

Non-human primates are highly intelligent, sentient animals. They form intricate social
relationships, interact with their environment in a dynamic and complex way, and
engage in imaginative problem solving. It is also widely accepted that primates
experience a range of negative emotions (e.g. anxiety, apprehension, fear,
frustration, boredom and mental stress) as well as a range of positive emotions (e.g.
interest, pleasure, happiness and excitement). In short, they are very close to humans
in their biology and capabilities, and the users of non-human primates argue that this
makes them ideal ‘models’ for research. However, this also means that primates have
the capacity to suffer like humans, so there can be no question that primates can
experience pain and distress.

Confining animals who would normally live in a very large and complex home range in
the laboratory, must have a significant adverse effect on their welfare. At its best
laboratory primate housing represents only a small fraction of their home range. The
worst, still commonly used in many countries, is a small, barren metal box in which the
animals can only take a few steps in any direction. Other aspects of the lifetime
experience of laboratory primates also cause stress and suffering, particularly where
they cannot control their environment, social grouping, or what is done to them. Any
pain or distress associated with experimental procedures is therefore compounded by
additional adverse effects resulting from capture of wild primates, breeding practices,
transport, housing, husbandry, identification, restraint, and finally, euthanasia.

For these reasons alone, the use of primates in research and testing is a matter of
extreme concern to the animal protection community worldwide and to the significant
sector of the public who they represent. This concern has been recognised at a
regulatory level with some countries making special provisions for primates in their
legislation, and emphasising the need to reduce and replace primate experiments.


The animal protection organisations attending the Fifth World Congress on
Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences in Berlin in 2005 have united to
call for an end to the use of non-human primates in biomedical research and
testing. We urge governments, regulators, industry, scientists and research
funders worldwide to accept the need to end primate use as a legitimate and
essential goal; to make achieving this goal a high priority; and to work together
to facilitate this. In particular, we believe there must be an immediate,
internationally co-ordinated effort to define a strategy to bring all non-human
primate experiments to an end.

In a press release announcing the resolution, the Humane Society of the United States noted its objections to the continued use of non-primate species in medical research as well,

At the occasion of the World Congress, the Vice-President of the German Animal Welfare Federation (Deutscher Tierschutzbund), Dr Brigitte Rusche, the Director of Eurogroup, Sonja van Tichelen, and the Vice President for Animal Research Issues of the Humane Society of the United States, Dr Martin Stephens, also expressed concern about the continuous use of other animals in research and the slow progress in the development, validation and acceptance of non-animal alternatives. As a result in the EU alone, over 10 million animals continue to be used in experiments every year including mice and rats but also fish, pigs, goats, cats, dogs and primates.

Of course this is the same Martin Stephens who in 1999 conceded that we owe much of our advanced understanding of human biomedical knowledge to animal research.


Worldwide call for primate testing ban. UKPets.Co.UK, August 22, 2005.

Animal Protection Organisations from Around the World Call for an End to the use of Primate Testing. Press Release, Humane Society of the United States, August 22, 2005.

What Is HSUS' Position on Animal Experimentation?

Animal rights activists
were livid at a letter sent by the Humane Society of the United States outlining its position on animal testing. Back in December,
WARDS executive vice president Joseph S. Venable sent a letter to Martin
L. Stephens, HSUS vice president for animal research, asking HSUS to make
its position on animal experimentation clear. As Venable wrote in his
letter, “Despite your combined efforts, HSUS is still perceived as
an anti-vivisection society. My understanding from discussions with scientists
and research administrators is that there is a great deal of suspicion
of the motives and how this information is to be deciphered … Personally,
I believe the Human Society of the United States must once and for all
make a declaration that animals are needed for biomedical research.”

Stephens responded in early
January with a letter claiming HSUS is not an antivivisection society
and recognizes the need for experimenters to use animals in medical research.
“You may be happy to know,” wrote Stephens, “that we now
acknowledge that biomedical research on animals, has advanced scientific
knowledge and human and animal health. We also acknowledge that scientists
are concerned about the pain and distress and that, indeed, many scientists
want to see the day when animals are no longer used in harmful research.”

WARDS then published the exchange
of letters in its Winter 1999 newsletter, which brought the HSUS’ position
to the attention of animal rights activists who were none too happy. Stephens
then followed up his letter to Wards with yet another letter to animal
rights activists to explain HSUS’ position. Basically Stephens reiterates
that, “HSUS continues to be strongly committed to working towards
the day when animals are no longer used in harmful research.”

In his letter, Stephens specifically attacks the common view held by animal rights activists that medical technologies
developed by research on animals has done nothing to improve human health.
Stephens writes:

However, statement #1 [that “biomedical research, including
research on animals, has advanced biomedical knowledge and human and animal
health”] simply acknowledges that some health benefits have come
from biomedical research, including research on animals. Anyone who denies
that our knowledge of biomedical systems and their function, and our potential
ability to prevent and treat disease is not vastly greater today than
it was 50 years ago is simply ignoring reality. We can argue amongst ourselves
about the relative contributions of different research approaches but
we would prefer to look forward to what might be accomplished in the coming
years and to working to continue the decline in laboratory animal use
that has been going on for the past twenty-five years.

It is gratifying to see HSUS
recognize the obvious, but note that the letters say a lot less than they
appear to at first. Although HSUS now recognizes that research on animals
has improved human health, the statements carefully avoid even the implication
that such experiments were morally justifiable or that current medical
research utilizing animal models is morally justifiable.

This is not surprising since
HSUS vice president Michael Fox wrote in his 1990 book Inhumane Society
that although animal experimentation might have provided useful information
in the past, “it now impedes further significant progress” and toxicity
tests in animals “amount to little more than a public relations campaign
to dispel public concern and, at best, give a false sense of security.”
And, of course, Fox is infamous for his statement that, “The life of an
ant and that of my child should be granted equal consideration.”

There is nothing in
the HSUS letters that contradicts Fox’s statements. Apparently Stephens
hopes researchers will read more meaning into HSUS “new” position than
is really there. As Stephens wrote in his letter answering animal rights
activists concerns about the original letter, this is merely a pragmatic
strategy designed to give HSUS a better chance of realizing its goal of
eliminating animal from medical research sometime within 20 years.


An Open Letter to HSUS. Joseph S. Venable, WARDS, Letter, December 4, 1998.

Reply to Venable letter. Martin L. Stevens, Humane Society of the United States, January 6, 1999.

Letter posted to HSUS mailing list. Martin L. Stephens, Humane Society of the United States, March 30, 1999.