The use of nonhuman primates in research is already a highly charged issue—and it has just gotten more controversial.
Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, is the second-largest exporter of long-tailed macaques for biomedical research, behind China. As a result of newly-issued regulations, however, Mauritius is now preparing to conduct nonhuman primate experiments directly on the island.
The move to get into the business of nonhuman primate experimentation was reportedly prompted by constraints on such research in North America and Europe, as well as by the success of campaigns discouraging airlines from flying nonhuman primates for research purposes. (Most major passenger airlines, with the exception of Air France, have discontinued the practice of transporting nonhuman primates destined for experimentation.)
Some feel that Mauritius is taking these steps because it is having difficulty exporting the nonhuman primates that they breed, while others believe that country sees an opportunity to become a biomedical research hub. Despite its low tax rates and reported high levels of economic freedom, Mauritius has not yet drummed up business for conducting animal research on the island.
Scientists have concerns about whether the island would be able to meet Good Laboratory Practices, guidelines that assure the quality of non-clinical laboratory studies that are intended to support research for products regulated by government agencies. Some of Mauritius’ government officials have also questioned how the country would ensure protections for the animals, as well as provide transparency surrounding the experiments. There are fears that the release of this information would negatively impact Mauritius’ tourist industry, an important source of revenue. Despite these concerns, however, the government has declared its support for conducting animal experiments on the island.
Public opposition to nonhuman primate experiments has been steadily increasing—and actions such as those being considered in Mauritius represent a worrisome backslide against the substantial progress that has been made in recent years. The availability of “off shore” experimentation options presents an opportunity for the U.S. to continue—or even increase—nonhuman primate research, despite growing scientific and ethical concerns.
A recent opportunity by the National Institutes of Health to investigate the ethics of nonhuman primate research failed to do an adequate job, as it did not provide the necessary balance of ethicists and scientists. Such a meeting, if conducted properly, could very likely demonstrate that the continued use of nonhuman primates in experiments is not justifiable—neither on our shores, nor in distant island nations.
Please contact your U.S. Senators and Representative and ask them to demand of the NIH—or the Institutes of Medicine—a meaningful hearing on the ethics of using nonhuman primates.
READ MORE: Learn about the use of nonhuman primates in research.
Source: “Angering animal welfare activists, Mauritius invites primate research labs to set up shop,” Science, May 3, 2017
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