UPDATE: NEAVS is excited to report the USDA responded within weeks after submitting that the issue is "important" and it will be seeking public comment. This is the response we were looking for and it pushes our campaign forward. Learn how you can offically add your voice and take action.
A coalition of animal protection groups including the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, the Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish clear and enforceable regulations for the psychological well-being of monkeys and apes used in biomedical research laboratories.
The Rulemaking Petition submitted to the agency includes the declarations of primate experts, studies on primate well-being and lab stress, and extensive documentation showing non-human primates have a strong need for companionship and mental stimulation which, when not met, results in severe distress and disturbing symptoms. The Petition asks the USDA to establish criteria for social housing, environmental enhancement, access to the outdoors, opportunities for choice and self-determination within the limitations of captivity, and other enrichment.
The Animal Welfare Act currently covering the treatment of animals in labs and other licensed facilities requires labs to provide for “psychological well-being,” but leaves the determination of this up to the individual lab. The Petition cites numerous USDA inspection reports stating labs do not adequately address, and sometimes even ignore, the psychological distress of monkeys. Without specific guidelines, USDA inspectors are unable to adequately enforce this requirement, and often unable to properly identify monkeys in distress or take appropriate corrective action – resulting in monkeys and apes suffering severe, often irreversible, psychological harm.
Today’s Petition asks the USDA to address these standards for psychological well-being for lab monkeys and other nonhuman primates – in the same way the National Institutes of Health did for chimpanzees in 2013, when it established strict guidelines for providing appropriate housing for those remaining in labs following its landmark decision to retire nearly 90% of its chimpanzees from research.
“Common sense and scientific research itself shows that monkeys suffer the same psychological traumas in labs as do chimpanzees, and therefore require and deserve the same minimal lab conditions the NIH now requires for chimpanzees,” said NEAVS President Theodora Capaldo, EdD. “As it stands, the language safeguarding monkeys’ psychological well-being is vague with limited enforcement power. We are asking that the USDA define criteria for psychological well-being with sufficient teeth to truly protect and end the kind of horrible conditions monkeys by the tens of thousands must now endure.”
“Lab monkeys commonly suffer such symptoms as self-mutilation, endless spinning in tiny cages, and other abnormal behaviors often tolerated as ‘typical’ monkey behavior,” said NAPSA executive director Sarah Baeckler, JD. “Our member sanctuaries providing lifetime care for monkeys and chimpanzees rescued or retired from research know the long and demanding process it takes to restore primates’ psychological health, and also know that preventing such harm in the first place is the most important way to help them.”
“The USDA has the power and the responsibility to address the overly vague, inadequate, and unenforceable standards of care that have resulted in prolonged suffering of captive lab monkeys,” said Stephen Wells, executive director of ALDF. “We ask the USDA to consider the best interest of monkeys, its own inspectors, the laboratories, and the public, which expects and relies upon the agency to ensure the best possible treatment of animals in labs.”
Based on annual reports by research facilities, there are more than 107,000 non-human primates currently in laboratories.
The full Petition “To Establish Criteria to Promote the Psychological Well-Being of Primates as Required by the Animal Welfare Act” is available here.
Clarification: The photo on page 40 is an example of a typical restraining device, not of a stereotaxic device as captioned.