UPDATE: NIH Agrees to Accept Recommendation to Retire Chimpanzees
Most invasive research will end; chimpanzees retire
June 26, 2013
The eagerly awaited response to a report issued by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Councils’ Working Group has now been released, revealing that the NIH will accept a vast majority of the recommendations and phase out the use of chimpanzees for invasive experiments. The report, released in January 2013, concluded that a majority of biomedical research conducted on chimpanzees owned or supported by the NIH should end.
In 2010, the NIH asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to undertake a study assessing the necessity of using chimpanzees in research. The IOM released the results of its study—and its recommendations—in December 2011.
The NIH agreed to accept the recommendations of the IOM, which included criteria for undertaking or continuing invasive and non-invasive research. The NIH then asked its advisory body, the Council of Councils, to undertake a review of current NIH research and to in turn make specific recommendations on how to implement the principles and criteria for the use of chimpanzees set forth by the IOM. The Council established a Working Group to undertake this review.
The Working Group made 28 specific recommendations, most of which the NIH has approved:
- 81 of the 93 chimpanzees used for biomedical research be permanently “designated for retirement to the federal sanctuary system.”
- Approval of continued use of the remaining chimpanzees is conditioned on changes in housing and care that would provide an “ethologically appropriate physical and social environment” for chimpanzees. These changes must be made within 3-5 years.
- The NIH reviewed its funding priorities for comparative behavioral, cognitive, and genomics studies using chimpanzees to consider projects that can be conducted in nontraditional settings, such as accredited sanctuaries and zoos that comply with the new ethologically appropriate environment.
The NIH determined that it would set up an independent oversight committee to evaluate any new proposed research, but that it would create a Chimpanzee Research Use Panel as a working group of the NIH’s Council of Councils instead of the oversight specifically recommended in the report. This panel will assess any new proposed research and will evaluate it according to the IOM principles and criteria for research on chimpanzees.
The NIH accepted the Working Group’s recommendations regarding the physical and social environment required for captive chimpanzees, except for a recommendation that all chimpanzees have a minimum living space of at least 1000 ft. The NIH stated that it could find no data to support this requirement but pledged to investigate the matter further for appropriate minimum space.
Unfortunately, the NIH also agreed that a colony of approximately 50 chimpanzees should be maintained—in an ethologically appropriate environment—in the event of an emergency need for chimpanzees in the future. This population would be young chimpanzees of both genders, 50% of whom have not been previously used for HIV or Hepatitis C research. The maintenance of this colony of chimpanzees would be reviewed every five years to determine whether it is still necessary to maintain these numbers. No breeding would be permitted. This population could be chosen from NIH-owned or NIH-supported animals, though the process for choosing these animals has not yet been developed.
Another hurdle facing the retirement of chimpanzees—the lack of funds still under the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act (CHIMP Act) to support the Federal Sanctuary System—was also addressed by the NIH. According to Director Dr. Francis Collins, the NIH is already working with members of Congress to amend the CHIMP Act to make available funds for new construction and future maintenance for these chimpanzees.
In a press conference held Wednesday morning, NIH officials also reported that they have been working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding their recommended listing of chimpanzees as “endangered.” Under the proposed rule, any research on chimpanzees that constitute a “taking” (or harm to the animal) would require a permit. One criterion for obtaining a permit includes a provision that any research would be for the benefit of the chimpanzee or the species. the NIH is working to craft a solution to enable it to continue research on a limited number of chimpanzees in projects funded now and possibly in the future.
What else needs to be done to help ensure that chimpanzees are permanently retired from research?
- Ensure that the Federal Sanctuary System—Chimp Haven—has sufficient funds to provide care for all chimpanzees retired from research, now and in the future by supporting legislation to amend the CHIMP Act.
- Support rulemaking by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to include all captive chimpanzees in the Endangered Species List as “endangered.”
- Continue to pursue legal, legislative and public pressure to prohibit invasive research on all great apes, including those privately owned and supported.
- Support the NAVS Sanctuary Fund, which has given grants to all of the chimpanzee sanctuaries in the U.S., including Chimp Haven.
NAVS has been committed to removing chimpanzees from research and offering them sanctuary, working on the passage of the CHIMP Act and other federal legislation, and providing scientific testimony every step of the way to reach this point. NAVS remains dedicated to working to ensure that all chimpanzees are permanently retired from research. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins’ response to the Working Group report provides a very positive step forward for chimpanzees supported by the NIH, and validates the years of work by NAVS and many other committed animal advocacy organizations.