Animal Aid

Monkeying around with human health


In 2002, 3977 experiments using 3173 monkeys were conducted in the UK alone. (1)

The majority were subjected to product 'safety testing' carried out by pharmaceutical companies or their contract research organisations. The remainder were used in experiments to study the brain, disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and other physiological functions.

In an attempt to explore how the human brain works and develop potential remedies for a range of neurological conditions, monkeys have their skulls opened and their brains damaged with toxic chemicals and through surgery. They are then often set a battery of tests in experiments that can last months, and even years. Most experiments end with the monkeys being killed and various body parts analysed. But prior to death, according to the researchers' own published papers, the animals suffer symptoms that include seizures, vomiting, diarrhoea, tremors and uncontrollable body movements.

The public is strongly opposed to the use of primates in laboratories (see opposite) for a number of compelling reasons that cannot be dismissed as mere sentimentality. Many dispute the claim that research on primates is necessary for medical progress and believe that the reverse is true. As the following pages will show, primates are a poor model for such research and their use has resulted in harm to patients, which is an inevitable consequence of reliance on other species to study human diseases.

Our close kinship with primates is undeniable and the more we learn about them, the more it becomes apparent that they share with us emotions, intelligence and complex social relationships. They are clearly capable of suffering psychologically as well as physically when separated from their family groups, confined in a cage, denied freedom to express their natural behaviour and subjected to painful and invasive procedures. All these fates await primates used in laboratory experiments.

This government came to power promising to reduce animal experimentation. Yet since 2000, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) has revealed, they have been secretly planning a new macaque breeding centre - to be funded by the taxpayer - at the military research centre at Porton Down in Wiltshire. (2) This will inevitably increase the use of macaques in British laboratories by avoiding the current difficulty and delay in procuring monkeys from abroad.

The government also gave the go-ahead for Cambridge University to build a massive new primate research centre, which would have housed hundreds of monkeys for use in brain experiments. This was despite the fact that, at a public inquiry ordered by John Prescott, and at which Animal Aid gave detailed scientific evidence demonstrating that the Centre would produce no benefits for human medicine, the presiding Inspector concluded that the University had failed to prove its central claim that there was a 'national need' for the laboratory. Shortly after receiving planning permission, the university announced it was pulling out of the project for 'financial reasons'.

In 2002, MEPs voted in favour of a complete review of the use of all primates in experiments. They singled out Britain and Cambridge University, in particular, for inadequate enforcement of existing regulations. The next development will be the publication of the European Commission's long-awaited proposal for a revision of Directive 86/609 (which determines how member states of the EU regulate the use of animals in experiments), which will present MEPs with the opportunity to vote for an outright ban. In 2003, an Early Day Motion calling for a complete ban on all primate experiments, on the grounds that they were scientifically insupportable as well as causing extreme suffering, was signed by no fewer than 131 MPs.

The following pages will assess the three main types of primate experimentation, on the basis of their scientific value - a key factor in any attempt to justify such a controversial and distressing practice. The three main research categories are drug testing; brain function and disorders; and the study of infectious diseases.

Click here for part 2 of Monkeying Around With Human Health


A NOP poll commissioned by Animal Aid in April 2003 found that 52% of respondents regarded experiments on primates as morally unacceptable. Only 40% said they were acceptable - the remainder fell into the 'don't know' category. When asked whether they believed that results from primate experiments could be reliably applied to people, 43% said they could not, whilst 44% said they could. Amongst the younger age groups, a clear majority regarded such tests as scientifically unreliable.

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