DECEMBER 16, 2011
The Obama Administration has followed through with its promise to ban funding for life-saving biomedical research on chimpanzees amid demands from leftist animal rights groups that claim the primates are being exploited.
The story first came to light about a month ago when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was considering classifying chimps—wild or captive—endangered by sometime next year. The agency acted after a consortium of influential animal rights groups demanded the government upgrade captive chimpanzees from threatened to endangered status, mainly to ban scientists from using the approximately 1,000 chimps available for biological and behavioral studies in the U.S.
Scientists have used chimps to produce life-saving vaccines for diseases such as Hepatitis B and to test drug safety and efficacy. Chimps have also been essential in AIDS research and the hope of developing an elusive vaccine against the deadlier Hepatitis C, an infectious viral disease that leads to swelling of the liver and plagues tens of millions of people worldwide.
The reason these primates are so valuable to medical researchers is that they share many similarities to humans, including more than 98% of the genetic code. In fact, chimps are the only known animal other than humans that can become infected with AIDS, the lethal virus that destroys the immune system.
Regardless, this week the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the government agency that funds medical and behavioral research, adhered to the demands of animal rights groups by suspending all new grants for work on chimpanzees. The director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, acknowledges that chimp research has “served an important role in advancing human health” but says the primates also deserve “special consideration and respect.”
Dr. Collins assures that the NIH is still committed to conducting and supporting “high-quality science” in the interest of advancing public health. Here are a few examples uncovered by Judicial Watch in the last few months alone: More than $1.4 million to study African baboon fecal samples that reveal alpha males have elevated stress levels; nearly $1 million to teach uncircumcised African men how to wash their genitals after having sex to help curb the spread of AIDS; north of $2 million to promote condom use among injecting drug addicts in Kazakhstan, a former Soviet socialist republic that serves as a main route for Russia and Europe-bound narcotics.
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