In wake of multiple violations in last six years, lawsuit could force release of footage recorded within Primate Center.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit against UC Davis in an effort to force the university to release videos cited in researchers’ published papers on studies conducted at the UC Davis Primate Center. UC Davis has refused to do so, despite PETA’s filing of a California Public Records Act (CPRA).
Andy Fell, the associate director of news and media relations at UC Davis, said in an email that the CPRA request made by PETA in December of 2017 was only partially fulfilled in May of 2018 because the “requested material concerns ongoing research, or because the records do not exist.”
“Animal research benefits human health, is conducted humanely and is strictly regulated,” Fell said. “We strive to take the best possible care of these animals.”
The lawsuit filed by PETA, however, points to several instances in which UC
Davis failed to comply with laws regarding laboratory animals. In the past six years, UC Davis hasn’t reached the minimum standards of care outlined in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) at least 24 times, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit indicates several citations by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the department that oversees the implementation of the AWA, including an instance in which a monkey suffered kidney damage and internal bleeding after an attempted escape led to use of a tranquilizer dart gun.
Jeremy Beckham, a researcher associate in PETA’s laboratory investigation department, has been working on issues related to animal experimentation for 15 years. Of the 4,500 monkeys at the primate center, some are kept outdoors for breeding purposes, but many of them are used for experimentation indoors and away from the public eye, according to Beckham.
Beckham listed common issues of monkey treatment in primate centers like the one at UC Davis, including monkeys being subjected to invasive brain experiments, psychological experiments which have included forcing the monkeys to inhale toxic substances and isolation. Since monkeys are social and emotional animals, isolation in cages causes them to pace, swing and potentially self-mutilate, Beckham said.
Primate centers generally don’t allow the public to see what is occurring within their facilities. A photographer from The California Aggie, who attempted to photograph the center from behind the fence surrounding the building, was told by a public safety officer from the UC Davis Police Department to delete the photos he had taken. UC Davis officials said this is done to ensure the safety and privacy of the employees who work at the center.
Due to restrictions of this nature at both this and similar facilities, PETA utilized other ways to gain documented insight into the centers’ daily operations. One way PETA receives information on monkey treatment in these centers is through an open records requests, like the CPRA.
Beckham said that a UC Davis research psychologist has been running an infant behavioral assessment program for the last 15 years — a program that is funded by federal tax dollars and a program the majority of the monkeys born at UC Davis have gone through.
“Shortly after the monkeys are born, they’re separated from their mothers, which we’ve known for a long time is extremely stressful for both baby and mom, and then they’re subjected to a variety of stressful situations,” Beckham said.
The infant monkeys may be put through a screen showing an image of an aggressive monkey after being isolated in a cage, according to Beckham.
“Obviously, baby monkeys separated from the security of their mom seeing this image of this larger monkey stresses them out and scares them,” Beckham said. “They videotape the reactions of these baby monkeys and look at which monkeys act more stressed out than others.”
Fell, on the other hand, said that the monkeys studied are “being assessed for how they react to stimuli such as a person looking at them or a person in profile, or to other stimuli such as food rewards.” The research shows that the behavior traits the monkeys exhibit relate to group behavior and varied disease responses.
Beckham argued that, as a public institution with research funded with federal tax dollars, UC Davis should release the tapes from this study in addition to tapes from other experiments.
“What better way to cut to the heart of what’s happening in this laboratory than to simply release the videos that the experimenters took themselves?” Beckham asked. “Let the public decide for themselves if they think that’s worth subsidizing. We’ve already supported these experiments for 15 years, over $5 million have gone towards these experiments.”
While Fell defended UC Davis’ partial release of records, Beckham said that UC Davis has argued against releasing the full records, claiming doing so would be a threat to academic freedom.
“I think especially because they’re a public agency and these experiments are funded by tax dollars, we have a right to look over [academics’] shoulders,” Beckham said. “We should not blind ourselves to academic institutions’ biases. People in academia are just as susceptible to abusing their position of power and just as susceptible to bias as anyone else.”
The P.E.A.C.E. club at UC Davis, a club that advocates against animal cruelty through education, has also organized against the Primate Center. The club works closely with PETA and has a designated campus representative each quarter who works directly with PETA. Many of the events the club hosts are also funded by PETA.
“Last year, we held a vigil and we were walking around downtown — we came in a group and sang songs and held signs talking about the primate lab and why we shouldn’t use animals in testing,” said Julie Novaes, a second-year Spanish and neurobiology, physiology and behavior double major, the director of events for the P.E.A.C.E. club and the current campus representative for PETA. “We had a demo last year also where we wore monkey masks and it was like hear no evil, see no evil [and speak no evil]. That was on campus at the MU, just to have people come and start a conversation.”
Novaes also mentioned a petition created by the Free Davis Primates group “dedicated to raising awareness about the 5,000+ primate who undergo unnecessary/painful testing that goes on behind closed doors at the UC Davis Primate Research Center.” The petition has nearly 13,000 signatures with the goal of gaining 15,000 signatures.
The P.E.A.C.E. club’s ultimate goal is to shut down the primate center, according to Novaes.
“Harvard shut theirs down a couple years ago, and a lot of it was a big push by students, and they’re still doing fine as a school and I think we can do the same thing,” Novaes said. “A lot of people argue that because they’re less intelligent than we are, than they deserve to be treated poorly. But I don’t think intelligence is a measure of the compassion you deserve. We shouldn’t be enslaving animals for our needs.”
Written by: Sabrina Habachi — firstname.lastname@example.org