The National Institute of Health (NIH) has announced that there will be no new grants given for research on chimpanzees. While this is partially a victory for chimpanzees and animal organizations, there are unfortunately loopholes for researchers to use.
According to the NY Times, the NIH has accepted a criteria to determine if biomedical and behavioral research on chimpanzees is necessary. If chimp research is found to be “necessary for human health” and there are no other alternatives, then funding may be provided. Jeffrey Kahn, a chairman of the Institute of Medicine committee that created the report, said “What we did was establish a set of rigorous criteria that set the bar quite high for use of chimpanzees in biomedical or behavioral research. One of the important themes in the committee report is that there is a trajectory toward decreasing necessity for the use of chimps in biomedical and behavioral research.” NIH Director Francis S. Collins said that chimps “deserve special consideration and respect” as they are humans’ closest relatives.
The report also only covers chimps that are owned by the federal government. While there are clearly loopholes, some animal organizations are celebrating as it will help to reduce research conducted on chimps. Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the United States president, said that the organization is “tremendously encouraged” because the report’s “overarching conclusion was that chimps are largely unnecessary.” Pacelle also hopes that this step will help get the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act passed, and help a petition currently before the Fish and Wildlife Service to declare chimps endangered. While chimps are not included as an endangered species, the use of the primates in research, entertainment and as pets is legal; Pacelle said “ ‘Endangered’ stops all those uses.”
The report allows for biomedical research if it can not be done on other nonhuman animal or human subjects or if not conducting the research would “significantly slow or prevent important advancements to prevent, control and/or treat life-threatening or debilitating conditions.” Also, for behavior and genomic research, the report allows this to be done on chimps that are cooperative with experimenters and if pain and stress are minimized. Pacelle is contesting one part of the report that says chimps can be housed in research centers as long as they are provided for behaviorally, socially and physically. Most research centers are currently accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. Pacelle said this will allow researchers to keep chimps at research facilities because they have received accreditation.
Of the over 900 chimps currently kept for research in the United States, 612 are owned federally and are the only ones to receive any protection by this report. The NIH has acted in response to outrage over their plan to move its “retired” lab chimps from New Mexico back into a research center. The chimps will reportedly be staying put for now. The United States is one of only two nations that still allow testing on chimpanzees. The other is Gabon.