A neuroscientist who has spoken out in support of animal testing is in the news again after a militant animal rights group sent razor blades and a threatening note to his house. The group claims that the razor blades were contaminated with HIV-infected blood.
The researcher, J. David Jentsch, who studies addiction and schizophrenia at UCLA, explains the incident:
“About a week ago I was going through my mail in my kitchen and I opened a letter and razor blades spilled out on the floor. It was the first sign something was nefarious,” he said. “The letter inside contained quite specific and heinous acts of violence to kill me.” [CNN]
Jentsch made headlines last year when he staged a pro-test rally in support of (humane) animal research after an animal rights group fire-bombed his car in his driveway. The threats and harassment of Jentsch and other department employees have continued, but Jentsch seems undaunted and undeterred.
The governor of New Mexico wants a say in the future of 168 chimpanzees, and has pulled scientists, government officials, and even Jane Goodall into the debate.
The chimps in question are currently living (and have been for the last ten years) in a research reserve in the town of Alamogordo in New Mexico. They were all previously used as lab animals, where they are used to test and study HIV and Hepatitis C, life-threatening human diseases which don’t grow in any other animals.
The chimps were removed from laboratory testing after being taken from the Coulston Foundation, a research facility that was found to be abusing and neglecting its primate residents. The Alamogordo reserve was given the ten-year contract to house and care for the animals in 2001.
Harold Watson, who heads the chimpanzee research program for the National Center for Research Resources, said that with the end of the contract, it only makes sense to use the chimps for their original purpose. [The New York Times]
Last week, seemingly out of nowhere, Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis pulled the plug on a federally funded research project that would have tested anthrax vaccines on baboons, and euthanized the primates at the experiment’s end. This week more details are beginning to come out regarding why Hargis made his call. Basically, his office says, they didn’t want to deal with possibly violent animal rights protesters.
The plan was to expose the animals to the spores of the attenuated Sterne strain of anthrax and eventually advance to the Ames strain — the fully encapsulated and virulent form of the bacterium that was used in the anthrax attacks of 2001 — and observe the pathobiology of infection. It was part of a collaborative multi-institutional NIH grant originally awarded for $12 million in 2004, and renewed in September of this year for another $14.3 million [The Scientist]. Oklahoma State would have hosted only a small part of the research, and the university’s animal testing committee approved the project unanimously.
A neuroscientist whose car was firebombed by violent animal rights activists has decided to fight back, at least in the court of public opinion. The UCLA professor, David Jentsch, has formed a group called UCLA Pro-Test, and is organizing a rally in support of animal testing. “People always say: ‘Don’t respond. If you respond, that will give [the attackers] credibility,'” Jentsch, 37, said in a recent interview in his UCLA office. “But being silent wasn’t making us feel safer. And it’s a moot point if they are coming to burn your car anyway, whether you give them credibility or not” [Los Angeles Times].
UCLA Pro-Test, named after a similar group in the United Kingdom, wants to show its support for animal research that is conducted in a humane and regulated way. Jentsch studies schizophrenia and drug addiction, and works on both rodents and vervet monkeys.
The Animal Liberation Brigade took credit for bombing Jentsch’s Volvo as it sat in his driveway in the early morning hours of March 7. The activist group wrote in an Internet posting: “The things you and others like you do to feeling, sentient monkeys is so cruel and disgusting we can’t believe anyone would be able to live with themselves…. David, here’s a message just for you, we will come for you when you least expect it and do a lot more damage than to your property” [Los Angeles Times].
The nation’s largest primate research center has been accused of mistreating its monkeys and apes by the Human Society, which sent an undercover investigator to work at the research center for nine months. The New Iberia Research Laboratory houses more than 6,000 primates, including rhesus macaques and several hundred chimpanzees, on a sprawling 100-acre site in rural Louisiana. On its website, the Humane Society has posted clips of the video footage that show monkeys with open wounds, chimps being sedated with dart guns and falling from their perches onto the floor [The Scientist].
The Humane Society filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, listing 328 possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In response, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ordered an investigation of the facility. “In light of the video evidence presented today, I am ordering a thorough investigation of animal welfare practices at New Iberia Research Center,” Vilsack said. “If the allegations prove to be true, the American public can expect the perpetrators to be held fully accountable. I take the protection of animals very seriously, and will do my utmost to fully enforce the Animal Welfare Act” [The Times-Picayune].
The European Commission has proposed a ban on medical research performed on our species’ closest relatives, the great apes. The pan-European initiative would extend a ban already in force in Austria, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Sweden across the entire 27-member bloc. The ban, however, would not greatly affect current research, because no testing has been carried out on great apes in the EU for the past six years [The Scientist]. Nevertheless, the proposal [pdf] has received mixed reviews from both the scientific community, who fear excessive red tape, and animal rights groups, who say the ban does not go far enough.
If approved, the ban would prohibit researchers from using great apes, including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, to test scientific “procedures,” although behavioral studies will still be allowed. There will also be exceptions for research that could save a great ape species threatened with extinction and in the case of a serious pandemic that affects humans. The proposal also affects research on other animals, stressing the “3Rs” of reducing the number of animals used, refining techniques to lessen pain and discomfort, and replacing animal studies with alternatives [ScienceNOW Daily News]. Some 12 million vertebrate animals are used each year in experiments throughout the 27-nation bloc — half for drug development and testing, a third for biology studies and the rest for cosmetics tests, toxicology and disease diagnosis [Reuters].
It’s clearly a historic occasion, albeit a weird one: The Spanish parliament has announced its support for granting legal rights to gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans. The parliament’s environmental committee has approved resolutions committing the country to the Great Apes Project, an international campaign that aims to provide our closest genetic relatives with the right to life, the freedom of liberty and protection from torture [Great Ape Project]. The Spanish resolutions have majority support, and are expected to soon become law.
“This is a historic moment in the struggle for animal rights,” Pedro Pozas, the Spanish director of the Great Apes Project, told The Times. “It will doubtless be remembered as a key moment in the defence of our evolutionary comrades.”… Mr. Pozas said that the vote would set a precedent, establishing legal rights for animals that could be extended to other species. “We are seeking to break the species barrier — we are just the point of the spear,” he said. [The Times].