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NIH must retire chimpanzees not needed for research to sanctuary

CONTACT: Nate Leskovic

Chimpanzees not needed for research must be retired to sanctuary
New Rulemaking Petition holds government accountable

Sept. 21, 2012 – Boston, Mass. – Following today’s National Institutes of Health decision to retire 110 chimpanzees in laboratories and designate them no longer available for research, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) and co-petitioners of a recently submitted Rulemaking Petition charge the decision falls short of the spirit and intent of the 2000 CHIMP Act mandating chimpanzees not needed for research be retired to sanctuary. Today’s NIH decision sends only 10 chimpanzees to the federal sanctuary Chimp Haven, while it transfers 100 others to yet another lab, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

According to the Rulemaking Petition filed in July by the NEAVS, the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance, and other co-petitioners*, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must fulfill the intention of the Chimpanzee Health Improvement Maintenance and Protection Act (CHIMP Act) and define when federally owned chimpanzees are “not needed.” Today’s decision is an example of how NIH interprets the law in favor of the laboratories – not the chimpanzees. Labs, which receive federal funds to maintain chimpanzees, are allowed to decide when chimpanzees should be retired and have financial interest in holding them. The NIH plan is, according to NEAVS President Dr. Theodora Capaldo, “Close but no cigar.”

“While we applaud the fact that 110 chimpanzees will now be safe from research, the fact that NIH continues to make decisions that grant laboratories significant funding to keep chimpanzees and deprive chimpanzees the comfort of sanctuary is tantamount to a kind of cronyism that has to end,” says Capaldo. “NIH has absolute control over the lives of chimpanzees, and their decision to move them from one lab to another is not a responsible or even reasonable one. The chimpanzees should have all been retired to Chimp Haven, the federal sanctuary that provides outstanding care and housing for its residents.”

A “surplus” of chimpanzees in labs resulted from a 1986 National Institutes of Health initiative to breed chimpanzees for HIV/AIDS research. Chimpanzees turned out to be poor models for that and a host of other human diseases, but have remained in U.S. labs for decades. Despite the CHIMP Act, relatively few chimpanzees have been retired to our federal sanctuary even though 80-90% now in labs are not in research; the Institute of Medicine has determined chimpanzees to be “unnecessary” in nearly all areas of research; large numbers of chimpanzees now in labs are elderly and/or unfit for research; and retiring chimpanzees to sanctuary is economically beneficial to taxpayers and life-changing for chimpanzees.

“By allowing labs to determine eligibility, too few chimpanzees have been retired,” says Capaldo. “With enforceable criteria for determining when chimpanzees are ‘not needed’ for research, chimpanzees deserving of and clearly eligible for retirement will no longer languish in labs and no longer be vulnerable to NIH’s lab-favoring policies. This is what our Rulemaking Petition seeks to achieve.” The Rulemaking Petition suggests criteria to define when chimpanzees are not needed. If implemented, hundreds of chimpanzees would be retired who: (1) are held for research in which they have been determined to be unnecessary; (2) have not been assigned to research in 10 years; and (3) are unfit research models including the elderly, those with multi-use histories or incomplete medical records, and those with chronic, severe, or multiple physical or psychological illness.

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*Co-petitioners: the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, the North American Primate Sanctuary AllianceSave the ChimpsFauna FoundationAnimal Protection of New Mexico, the Kerulos Center, Friends of Washoe, and Sen. Bob Smith – a lead sponsor of the CHIMP Act.

Founded in 1895, the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) is a Boston-based, national animal advocacy organization dedicated to replacing animal experiments with modern alternatives that are ethically, humanely, and scientifically superior. Through research, outreach, education, legislation, policy change, and legal action, NEAVS advocates for animals in laboratories, product testing, and science classes at all levels.