Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Future of Primate Vivisection

A friend and I recently attended a workshop put on by the USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s Animal Care division (APHIS-AC) and the USDA Center for Animal Welfare (CAW), a part of APHIS-AC. It was titled, “Nonhuman Primate Symposium: Practical Solutions to Welfare Challenges.” USDA-AC is the branch (twig) of the government responsible for overseeing and enforcing the Animal Welfare Act.

The two-day event was held in a large conference room at the USDA Beacon Building at 6501 Beacon Dr. in Kansas City, Missouri. The first presentation was an informal greeting by the facility’s chief security officer who told us that the (crazy) security precautions and presence were due to the building being a “level 4” facility..., whatever that means. One thing it means, according to the security guy, is that the building can’t be photographed. Someone should have told Google:

(Prior to the symposium, the organizers sent an email to all the registrants, inadvertently or unknowingly letting everyone know who else was attending. Maybe security is a one-way street.)

We went because it was open to the public, free, and featured presentations from primate vivisectors. It is very unusual for primate vivisectors to speak in public about their dirty hideous profession.

The intended audience was apparently people with backyard zoos who had monkeys, but it was billed as appropriate for a wide audience.

The presentations were grouped by topic. At the end of each set of presentations, the speakers responded to written questions from the audience. My questions were never addressed. One of the first speakers was CAW director, Norma Wineland, DVM. I submitted a question to her about USDA-APHIS’s deletion of on-line records of inspection reports. The question was handed to her by the woman reading the questions. Dr. Wineland, veterinarian and lamb-producer, chose to leave that can of worms unopened. Wineland raises sheep with her husband and produces "great tasting, local lamb!" It makes perfect sense to me that someone who raises lambs to slaughter would be appointed to head the USDA Center for Animal Welfare.

Three of the speakers were or had been intimate participants in primate vivisection.

Gwendalyn Maginnis, DVM, Nonhuman Primate Specialist, Center for Animal Welfare, Animal Care, USDA, was apparently, the symposium's organizer, She is a good example of the cozy relationship between the vivisectors and USDA-AC. She worked previously at the UC-Davis California National Primate Research Center and at the Oregon Health Sciences University’s Oregon National Primate Research Center She also worked in the toxicology department at WIL Research Laboratories in Ohio (recently acquired by the hideous Charles River Labs.) An acquaintance who worked at the Oregon primate center when Maginnis was there told me that she wasn’t particularly concerned about the monkeys which seems right since serious concern is not compatible with assisting in this Mengele-like thread of the animal holocaust. Maginnis led a workshop at the end of the second day on preparing an AWA-required primate Environmental Enrichment Plan, a pro forma written document statutorily exempt from the Freedom of Information Act and of little impact in the labs, as the videos in a later presentation made painfully clear.

The second primate vivisector to make a presentation was Suzette D. Tardif, Associate Director of Research at Southwest National Primate Research Center. According to the The University of Texas Health Science Center's web site, “The Tardif laboratory's activities center on the development of the marmoset monkey as a disease model.” That’s pretty messed up; it seems like an open-ended invitation to hurt these small monkeys in any way she can imagine. In a very recent paper (1), she wrote: “Marmosets given the partial MPTP dose (designed to mimic the early stages of [Parkinson’s disease]) differed significantly from marmosets given the full MPTP dose in several ways, including behavior, olfactory discrimination, cognitive performance, and social responses. Importantly, while spontaneous recovery of PD motor symptoms has been previously reported in studies of MPTP monkeys and cats, we did not observe recovery of any non-motor symptoms." She seems too, to find humor in the things she does to the monkeys.(2)

But of all the sad and disturbing things she said, and didn’t say, the pièce de résistance was her answer to the question: “What do you see being different in the primate labs 50 years from now?” Now, I don’t think like a vivisector, but I think it reasonable to imagine that she might have said something about a possible reduced need for animals given the advances in technology or, if she weren’t quite so sheltered, something about the public’s changing mores, but no, her vision of the future of the primate labs is just more automation. Apparently, robots will be caring for the monkeys.
Wow. Dystopia on steroids. Tardif gave two presentations. She seemed sort of dead in a way to me.

The third primate vivisector was Yerke’s Mollie Bloomsmith. It’s hard to convey how disconnected with what I take as normalcy, she was. Her presentation was titled, “Understanding Abnormal Behavior and Fear-related Behavior in Primates.” In her slides were videos of monkeys exhibiting some of the common severe aberrant behaviors common to rhesus monkeys in the common laboratory colony environment.

She showed both pair-housed monkeys and singly-caged monkeys. It is broadly held that pair-housed rhesus monkeys are somewhat less emotionally disturbed than singly-caged monkeys, particularly males. The very pro-vivisection group, the Association of Primate Veterinarians reports that nearly 20,000 monkeys in the U.S. labs are caged alone.

The pair-housed monkeys were living in two cages with the panel between the cages removed. They had exactly twice the space given to a single monkey. But the walls, floor, and ceiling were still stainless steel panels and mesh.
Their environment was bleak and cold. There was barely room to move, there was no place to hide. Bloomsmith showed a segment and commented that one might not be able to tell the proximate cause of a monkey’s symptoms just by looking at them. In the video, one of the monkeys became very aggressive and held down the other monkey and pulled out clumps of hair on the other monkey’s back.

In other videos she showed monkeys biting themselves, pulling out their hair, poking themselves in the eye, and making stereotyped movements. She commented on one of them saying something like, “We don’t know why they hurt themselves.” I almost choked.

One of the questions that was asked after Bloomsmith’s presentation was how long the monkeys were in those cages and whether the cages in the videos were holding cages of some sort. She fumbled with the answer; it seemed likely to me that at least some people in the audience, maybe many or most, were seeing for the very first time how monkeys are kept in the labs. She chose not to say that those small barren cages are where they spend their lives. The implications and recognized risks associated with the public seeing such videos has led to decades of battles with universities to get copies of them. A good example is the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s destruction of 628 videotapes in order to keep just one from being shown to the public.

All in all, the symposium was informative. I hope APHIS will invite the public to attend many more.

(1)Phillips, Kimberley A., Corinna N. Ross, Jennifer Spross, Catherine J. Cheng, Alyssa Izquierdo, K. C. Biju, Cang Chen, Senlin Li, and Suzette D. Tardif. "Behavioral phenotypes associated with MPTP induction of partial lesions in common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)." Behavioural brain research 325 (2017): 51-62.

(2)Phillips, Kimberley A., M. Karen Hambright, Kelly Hewes, Brian M. Schilder, Corinna N. Ross, and Suzette D. Tardif. "Take the monkey and run." Journal of neuroscience methods 248 (2015): 27-31. From that paper; the link below is to a must-see video:

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