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Thursday, February 29, 2024

UW-Madison Primate Research Lab’s history of complaints from animal rights groups

A recent complaint against the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center (WNPRC) over mistreatment of animal research subjects at UW-Madison is just one item in a decades-long list of grievances animal rights groups have brought against the laboratory.  

The WNPRC’s mission is to increase individual’s understanding of basic primate biology and to improve human and animal health and quality of life through research. 

Based in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education at UW-Madison, the center is part of the National Primate Research Centers program that has been funded by the National Institutes of Health since 1961. The WNRPC has strong research and teaching links to the UW-Madison Schools or Colleges of Medicine and Public Health, Letters and Science, Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Veterinary Medicine. 

The WNPRC has approximately 1,600 animals that are cared for by 190 employees and 190 UW-Madison veterinary, post-doc, graduate, undergraduate and research trainees. The center serves more than 150 scientists and clinicians from around the world. 

It also has a long history of complaints from animal rights groups. 

In 1989, UW-Madison’s Richard Weindruch conducted a study depriving monkeys of 30 percent of needed calories to see if this would increase their longevity. The idea behind the study was to see if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less than maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would eat.

When the studies were first made public in 2009, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an international activist group with a mission of stopping all animal research, filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the university’s violations of the Animal Welfare Act. PETA claims the monkeys were kept in a semi-starved state, imprisoned and isolated in tiny barren cages. 

UW-Madison has been cited for neglect of animals in multiple reports by the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health inspection service. 

A 2004 inspection report revealed that a family of three marmosets were “found dead inside of their nesting box after the cage was sent through the cage washer.” The monkeys were believed to be killed with scalding-hot water. 

A 2014 inspection report shows that a marmoset monkey died during surgery because of a malfunctioning anesthesia machine. The same report showed a macaque monkey was burned by a malfunctioning heat lamp and another strangled to death when she became tangled in a chain attached to her cage. 

That same year, the university was fined more than $35,000 for seven violations of federal animal-welfare laws. 

A 2016 inspection report shows that three monkeys were dehydrated after the drinking water supply line to their cage became disconnected. The monkeys required specialized IV fluid therapy and one of the monkeys had to be euthanized. 

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UW-Madison was also fined $74,000 in April by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 28 violations of federal animal research treatment standards from March 2015 to April 2019. 

Most recently, PETA filed a complaint on Sept. 2 with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health, claiming six types of animal welfare violations from March through Sept. 1. 

According to the allegations, monkeys had persistent diarrhea and traumatic injuries, some of which involved or led to amputations of a finger or toes. Staff separated infants from mothers and failed to prevent “accidental opening” of enclosures. Monkeys also allegedly suffered from psychological distress, hair pulling, fear of cage mates and inadequate cleaning and staff training. 

UW-Madison released a statement regarding the recent allegations from PETA, claiming that the lab was “misrepresented.” 

The details in PETA’s letter were extracted from the university’s careful record-keeping. The university claims that this speaks to the diligent care provided by the staff and veterinarians in UW-Madison’s animal facilities, as well as the extensive training and attention to animal care. 

The statement claims that episodes can be plucked out of context from years of notes on about 100 of the roughly 1,600 animals in the facility and reframed to fit PETA’s agenda. In addition, the statement claims videos can be edited to present a misrepresentative view. 

UW-Madison indicated that if agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Agriculture chose to investigate PETA’s claims, they will fully participate in that process. 

The statement ended acknowledging the many ways that animal research can help improve lives, stating that animal studies have been critical in the development of vaccines and treatments for diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, cancer and Alzheimers. While this is true, WNPRC’s own list of the discoveries made by the lab makes no mention of those diseases except for HIV.

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