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Monkey Business

Image from www.ceece.org.ukA damning report launched in London reveals how hundreds of primates are confined in appalling conditions at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre (BPRC) at Rijswijk in the Netherlands. It has prompted renewed calls for the EU to ban experiments on great apes and to close the BPRC, which is the only laboratory left in Europe that still uses chimpanzees.

The centre houses more than 100 chimpanzees as part of a collection of about 1,500 primates that are used in a variety of experiments, from being infected with AIDS and hepatitis, to being the recipients of transgenic pig organs.

The European Union gives approximately £1.3 million of European taxpayers' money to the BPRC each year. Several experiments conducted at the BPRC on chimps over the past two years have involved leading British institutions with researchers from Britain involved in more than half of all EU funded primate experiments at the BPRC in the last three years.

The report, by The Coalition to End Experiments on Chimpanzees in Europe (CEECE), says the BPRC, Europe's largest primate laboratory, keeps more than 100 chimpanzees and hundreds of other primates in appalling conditions that the Dutch Government has acknowledged "do not meet generally accepted standards." Many of these animals are confined to cages so small that they cannot stretch their bodies, with chimpanzees sometimes housed in individual cages.

Chimpanzees as young as two years old exhibit disturbed behaviour, such as repeated rocking motions, and small groups of distressed infant chimpanzees routinely separated from their mothers have no option but to cling to one another for comfort. Many of these animals are confined to cages so small that they cannot stretch their bodies, with chimpanzees often housed in individual cages.

Jane Reynolds, chairwoman of CEECE, who has visited the BPRC on two occasions, said:

"It is an ethical absurdity that great apes are still experimented on now that we have learned so much about their human-like intelligence and ability to suffer. We also have serious doubts over the validity of the research undertaken at the BPRC.

"It is incredible that the EU funds experiments on chimpanzees that would be illegal in one of its member states. The conditions endured by the animals at the BPRC are indefensible and we are calling for an immediate closure of this laboratory and the rehoming of the chimpanzees and other primates to retirement sanctuaries."

Most of the chimpanzees at the BPRC are not used in experiments. Many were bred in the 1980s to use in fruitless research on Aids. Twenty years of AIDS research using chimpanzees has revealed one thing: despite sharing 98.5% of their DNA with humans, chimps are poor 'models' for humans in AIDS research. It has been demonstrated that HIV is transmitted and spread in a different way in chimpanzees and humans, and the typical progression of the disease and symptoms found in humans cannot be triggered in chimps (HIV does not develop into full-blown AIDS). Meanwhile, thousands of chimps are HIV infected and living in solitary isolation; and possible vaccines are being tested straightaway on humans (because of doubts about tests on chimps resulting in any meaningful data).

In May 1998 it emerged in the Observer newspaper that Imutran were had flown two genetically modified pigs to the BPRC. One was a "companion" and was slaughtered on arrival in the Netherlands. The other was operated on the next day and its kidneys plundered for transplantation into two macaque monkeys, who were then fed immunosuppresant drugs. Imutran said they were negotiating the use of a further 130 Macaque monkeys at the BPRC.

This appeared to be a clear attempt by Imutran to bypass UK regulations and the ethical debate concerning xenotransplantation research. In the Netherlands experiments using genetic engineered pigs from abroad do not need a licence from the Dutch government, whereas in the UK there is - supposedly - far stricter regulation. Indeed, in 1997 the Animal Procedures Committee, with reference to xenotransplantation experiments, said:

"It is also essential that the work is carefully & closely controlled. We accept that this will place extra regulatory burdens on those undertaking such work & that work may be delayed as a result. We do not apologise for this."

At the time Uncaged accused Imutran of being "Global Dealers in Death" and we were joined in our criticism of Imutran by other animal advocates, MPs and scientists. This method by which Imutran circumvented UK regulations was actually licensed by the Home Office and Department of Agriculture.

The CEECE's scathing report into conditions at the BPRC comes 5 years after a previous report into standards of care there, conducted by Advocates for Animals and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). In its promotional literature the BPRC claimed it "has pioneered setting, raising and standardising the levels of primate healthcare."

However, the report found:

"…the welfare of many of the primates at the BPRC is seriously compromised by the current housing conditions and that immediate improvements are essential. In particular, the long-term housing of individual animals, or mothers and offspring, in barren cages barely big enough for the adults to stand up, causes both Societies great concern."

At the launch of the campaign, renowned primatologist Jane Goodall said:

"I support CEECE in its call to end the use of chimpanzees in biomedical experiments. Apes share our human emotions and intelligence and to keep them in close confinement and subject them to invasive experimental procedures is inhumane.

"Emotions are hard to study. Nevertheless, everybody who has worked with chimps has no doubt that they are capable of emotions," said Ms Goodall, who has visited the Dutch research centre in the town of Rijswijk. "You can imagine what it was like for me to go into a medical research laboratory and look into the eyes of a male who had been born in the wild... The conditions they are kept in are totally, ethically and morally unacceptable."

The British Government banned the use of chimps in research in 1986, saying:

"This is a matter of morality. The cognitive and behavioural characteristics and qualities of these animals mean it is unethical to treat them as expendable for research."

Sir David Attenborough, another supporter of CEECE commented:

"I am in favour of a European ban on the use of apes in invasive medical research. I have seen footage of the conditions inside the Biomedical Primate Research Centre located at Rijswijk, Netherlands, and am appalled by it. I do not believe that the BPRC or any other laboratory keeping primates should be entitled to do so any longer."

Action

  • CEECE is urging people to write to their MEPs to ask for an end to EU funding of the BPRC and a ban on all future experiments on great apes in Europe. More info is on their website at www.ceece.org.uk or write to: PO Box 3384, Brighton, BN1 5WB, UK.
  • You can find out who your MEP is on the European Union website at www.europarl.eu.int or ring 020 7227 4300.
  • Also, write to the European Commissioner responsible for funding experiments on chimpanzees at the BPRC: Mr P.B. Busquin, Commissioner for Research Directorate F, European Commission, Rue de la Loi 200, B-1049 Bruxelles, Belgium. Email: phillipe.busquin@cec.eu.int.

[The Independent, 'Shut chimpanzee research centre, say scientists,' by Steve Connor, Science Editor, 27 March 2001; EU Magazine, Parliament, March 1999, by Vice-President of the European Parliament, David Martin, MEP (PES UK); The Observer, 'Transgenic pigs sent abroad for experiments,' by Marie Woolf, 10 May 1998, p.7; Current Standards in Europe for the care of non-human primates in laboratories: Supplement - Investigation of conditions for primates at the Biomedical Primate Research Centre, Rijswijk, the Netherlands, Advocates for Animals & Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, March 1996; Prisoner of the European Union, CEECE leaflet, April 2001.]

Uncaged Campaigns 08.05.01

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Uncaged 1993-2012: This is the archived website of Uncaged. All information correct at the time of archiving - November 2012.