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Chimp Lab Fights to Save Its Own Life

As the tide begins to turn in the battle to save the lives of chimpanzees in laboratories, the laboratory that conducts most of those experiments is now fighting for its own life.

The president of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Kenneth Trevett, writes a post in Congress Blog, where he sets out to rebut an earlier post supporting the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act, which is making its way through Congress and would end all medical experimentation on chimps.

But even to the casual reader, the rebuttal just doesn’t hold water. For example, the original post points out that shutting down the laboratories will save more than $330 million in taxpayer dollars over the next decade. Texas Biomed’s Trevett replies:

Research facilities are intrinsically more cost-effective than sanctuaries in maintaining chimpanzees … Research facilities already have the capacity to house all the chimpanzees that are available for research, whereas new facilities would have to be constructed at sanctuaries to house more chimpanzees (i.e., Chimp Haven and all other sanctuaries are filled to capacity).

But of course, the way a chimpanzee is housed at a laboratory is far, far different from life at a sanctuary. (Just check out the visit by PBS TV to both kinds of facilities.) Sanctuaries like Chimp Haven give the animals a natural habitat. And private individuals make major donations to them. Bob Barker recently donated half a million dollars for a new habitat at Chimp Haven. Here’s how he described his visit to the opening of the new habitat:

“They came down the hill through the timber, some of them running on their hind legs. Just running. They were so happy. One climbed a tree clear to the top. They played with balls and they ate bananas. I had a lump in my throat. I almost burst into tears, I was so happy when I saw it.”

Trevett claims that “Chimpanzees maintained at research facilities and at sanctuaries are generally healthy and their complex social and psychological needs are well provided for as they live in social groups in indoor/outdoor housing.”

But when PBS went to visit his facility, the cameras weren’t even allowed into the back areas of the institute, where the senior staff actually admit that people would be shocked by what they’d see. Dr. Robert Lanford, for example, told PBS:

“It’s not that we’re trying to hide something. It’s that we have a mission here that is to prove – improve human health care. And we believe that when people see that picture, they can’t listen to the mission anymore.”

But “trying to hide something” is exactly what he’s admitting that they’re doing.

In fact, the most compelling argument that Texas Biomed can make for holding on to the chimpanzees they have in captivity is that they might be needed if some new disease were to break out at some future time. As Dr. John VandeBerg explained it to NBC TV in an earlier visit to the research center:

“I think of the chimpanzees in the same way that I think of a library. There are many books in the library that will never be used this year or next year. … But we don’t know which ones will be needed tomorrow, next year or the year after.”

As vivisection laboratories see it, our closest cousins are nothing more than books in a library—things to be kept on a shelf for years and decades, just in case we might want to “use” them for experiments.

As one person notes in a comment on Trevett’s post:

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mr. Trevett’s predecessors were promising that their research with chimpanzees would cure cancer and even the common cold. They took hearts out of living chimpanzees for (failed) transplants to humans.

Mr. Trevett’s promises today are just as empty as the failures back then. It’s time to stop the self-serving self-promotion of the biomedical research industry. Give the chimpanzees the retirement, in sanctuary, that they deserve.

And even if these experiments did work, the real challenges to human health – heart disease, diabetes-2 and most cancers – are lifestyle diseases, easily prevented by sensible nutrition and good living. We will never bring about good health for our own species by trashing the lives of other animals.