The BUAV has welcomed the long-awaited announcement from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) that 90% of its chimpanzees will be permanently retired from research and transferred to sanctuaries. The US is the only remaining nation in the West still to use great apes in research, and the NIH is the world's largest funder of biomedical research.
The announcement follows a 2011 conclusion by one of the US’s most esteemed scientific associations, the Institute of Medicine (IOM), that most research using apes is "unnecessary".
However, the NIH has not yet committed to the idea of a total cessation of experimentation with great apes and will keep around 50 chimpanzees in reserve for “future potential research” should it be deemed justifiable, according to new, stricter criteria.
The BUAV Chief Executive, Michelle Thew, expressed her disappointment at this decision and said: "The psychological and physical harm to the animals, and the scientific ineffectiveness of their use in experiments, demonstrate that there should have been a total ban on the use of chimpanzees in research."
The BUAV has worked closely in supporting the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) that spearheaded national US efforts to end the use of chimpanzees in US laboratories, following legislative successes within the E.U. over the past decade.
NEAVS president, Theodora Copaldo, said today: "For the US National Insitutes of Health to agree to release and retire the vast majority of its chimpanzees is nothing short of a major paradigm shift in US scientific thinking. Today, we celebrate with the chimpanzees and all the other animal protection organizations, sanctuaries, and individuals who helped make this possible. Soon hundreds more chimpanzees will live the rest of their lives without threat of invasive research. But, our next task is to reverse the unnecessary decision to keep 50 chimpanzees in reserve. This speaks to the fear that often accompanies scientific advances, even when made by the highest of authorities. Keeping a reserve population has no scientific basis or merit, because chimpanzees are never going to benefit or protect human health research.”
Recent proposals have recently also been announced, by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), to list all chimpanzees as ‘endangered’. Currently, wild chimpanzees are listed as endangered, but captive chimps only enjoy ‘threatened’ status, which allows them to be used for research, in entertainment and as pets. Such reclassification would mean even stricter regulations around the use of chimpanzees in biomedical research, affecting both NIH and other privately funded research in the US, forcing probable revisions to NIH policy on the use of great apes in the future.