PETA on primates

The animal-rights organization's case against the labs
By LIZ PELLY  |  August 4, 2011

PETA
“Scientifically, the benefits of experimenting on primates have been consistently overblown by people who make money by doing it.” 

No real apes were used in the making of Rise of the Planet of the Apes — in theatres this Friday — which is only one of the reasons PETA is supporting the film. The radical animal rights organization also favors the film because, according to their Web site, it is the first live-action film ever to be told from the perspective of an animal with "humanlike qualities, who can strategize, organize, and ultimately lead a revolution, and with whom audiences will experience a real emotional bond." What PETA doesn't support are the places where the large majority of Boston's monkey population exist: in research labs, by the thousands. We spoke with Justin Goodman, associate director of PETA's laboratory investigations, about the use of primates for experimentation in schools and labs around Boston, the US, and the world.

HAS PETA DONE ANY INVESTIGATING INTO BOSTON'S LABS? In 2009, NASA announced it was giving 1.7 million dollars to an experimenter at Harvard's McLean Hospital to zap three dozen monkeys with radiation and lock them in cages to see how the radiation affects them, destroying their bodies and minds. We launched an aggressive campaign with protests at McLean and every NASA facility around the country. After a year, NASA scrapped plans to fund the project.

HAVE YOU BEEN SUCCESSFUL WITH GETTING IN TOUCH WITH HARVARD OR MIT? I TRIED, NO ONE WOULD TALK TO ME. That's not unique. People who abuse animals for money are usually a little wary about speaking to the public about what they do. One of the reasons they're able to continue doing it is because they're not forced to talk about it. But there's a lot of information available through the government and on the internet because the overwhelming majority of all this experimentation is publicly funded.

HOW DOES THE ANIMAL WELFARE ACT (AWA) TIE IN WITH THIS? The AWA is not an anti-cruelty law. It's a law that creates husbandry standards and record-keeping standards for the use of animals in experiments. No experiment, no matter what species it's on, or how invasive, or how painful, or how trivial, is prohibited by this law. It says you can do anything you want to an animal in a laboratory as long as you fill out the right paperwork.

It says you have to give animals food, water, and veterinary care, and pain relief, and adequate housing. And it also says you can withhold all of those things if you want to for your experiment. Monkey experiments are a good example of this. Very often, to coerce monkeys to participate in an experiment, you have to withhold food and water from them for a day so that they're so hungry and thirsty that they'll do anything for a sip of water or a bite of food. And you're allowed to do that under the law. Or if you're conducting an experiment on pain and you want to see the pain response to putting a monkey's tail on a hot plate, then you don't have to give them pain relief.

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