Why I Protest Animal Experimentation

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Why I Protest Animal Experimentation

By Matt Rossell, Northwest Director, In Defense of Animals (IDA)

I worked for two years undercover inside OHSU's (Oregon Health & Science University) primate research center, and what I saw inside that lab changed me forever. I came to recognize these social, intelligent monkeys—more than 4000 remain there today—as individuals, being treated like little more than furry test tubes. Although OHSU tells us most are now socially housed, their monkey census has grown by a shocking 68 percent in the past 10 years since I was there, still leaving roughly 1000 monkeys living alone in stark stainless steel cages.

When I hear scientists who conduct this research claim these animals are “not allowed to suffer,” as was expressed in a recent editorial by Nancy Haigwood, OHSU's director for the Oregon National Primate Research Center, I want to protest the phrase itself—for its overuse and therefore its uselessness, for its throttling of the very thing it asks us to be cognizant of: human ethics.

Long before any surgery or experiment is conducted, these monkeys suffer. Even as fragile babies, a leather-gloved hand rips them from their mothers forever, and as adults, they are left alone in cages for years on end. We now know how similar these monkeys are to humans, and their emotional need for love and companionship runs just as deep. Isolation is considered among the worst forms of human torture—a U.S. military study of almost a 150 naval aviators returned from imprisonment in Vietnam reported that they found social isolation to be as torturous and unbearable as any physical abuse—but in research labs, it is just standard husbandry practice. What I witnessed and videotaped were the resulting widespread bizarre behaviors: hair pulling, infant abuse, feces smearing and eating, self-mutilation, and depression, all consequences of research that resembles a factory farm for monkeys.

In the name of science, animals are routinely injected with or forced to consume toxins, addicted to drugs, intentionally inflicted with disease, subjected to invasive surgeries and procedures, burned, shocked, starved, deprived of water, isolated, and imobilized for hours, weeks, even months on end. How is it that they don't suffer?

Claims of strict regulation in federally funded labs are just as hollow. Ninety-five percent of all the animals used in research—mostly rats and mice—are afforded no protection under the Animal Welfare Act. At OHSU, the USDA visits as rarely as a few days a year, and Oregon's inspector at the time I was there, Dr. Isis Johnson Brown, quit in frustration because her supervisors didn't support her efforts to enforce the law. The other multiple layers of “oversight” are all in-house or research-industry-based, and with the recent financial conflagration, self-regulation has been exposed to be a dangerous proposition at best.

And all this suffering to what end? OHSU recently reported a monkey study that “proves” that exercise helps monkeys lose more weight than dieting alone. No surprise—this was previously observed in human subjects. And much of this research is just that—research for research's sake—with little or no human benefit. The more the public sees, the more skeptical they will become of outdated, wasteful, often ridiculous and fraudulent taxpayer-funded animal experimentation, the sooner its abolition will come. And that is why I protest.