By Ingrid Newkirk
A new study out of Emory Yerkes National Primate Research Center in Atlanta
is being hailed as groundbreaking because it shows that brown capuchin monkeys
have a sense of fair play. Apparently, when one monkey was given only a piece
of cucumber, but he saw a fellow monkey receiving a tasty grape, he tossed his
cucumber aside in a fit of pique.
So now we know that monkeys can see what's fair and unfair. It's too bad that
the people who keep these monkeys in cages their whole lives-a truly unfair
sentence for intelligent beings who have committed no crime-don't enjoy the
But then again, proof that we are a species behaving badly is everywhere.
Here are just two examples: In Amsterdam they've had to dissolve the honor system
of offering public bicycles because so many have been stolen, repainted and
sold. And in a study of visitors to Antarctica, it was found that people with a
university or post-graduate education were significantly more inclined to
harass seals and trample plants.
Average people, both well educated and uneducated, are capable of worse acts
than we like to believe. What this means is that animals, the elderly,
children and anyone else in a vulnerable position are more likely to be abused than
we would like to believe.
The medical and scientific researchers, like those at the primate center,
conducting experiments on animals are no exception. Lab experimenters, despite
their often lofty goals, have been no more successful in policing themselves
than have average citizens.
The examples of horrific behavior inside laboratories are legion and fresh.
University of North Carolina researchers cut off rodents' heads with scissors
without any effort to lessen their suffering. Researchers in a lab in New
Jersey were caught slamming petrified monkeys into steel cages and, having tied
them down to the table, stuffing bottles in their mouths and mocking them.
Someone once said the only thing we learn from history is that we don't learn
from history. We change the victims but keep the behavior. The past
atrocities in the name of medical research prove that point.
The Tuskegee experiment, in which poor black men in the southern U.S. were
used as research subjects and not told that they had syphilis is one of the most
studied cases in research ethics. Orphans were used in tuberculin tests and
trials of low levels of radiation, and poor migrant Irish women were used in
gynecological practice surgeries which, when perfected, were performed on
wealthy, paying customers.
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug
Administration require thousands of tests on animals, and many companies-that sell
everything from detergent to lipstick-voluntarily test their products on animals.
Even if lab workers always followed proper procedures, there are few regulations
for animal welfare. In the case of mice, rats and birds-the majority of animal
subjects-there are no laws governing their treatment.
Rats and mice, though they feel pain the same way humans do, are used in labs
because, in the words of the head of laboratory science at a Washington
medical school, "they are cheap, convenient, and easy to handle." That's
uncomfortably similar to the justification we used for experiments on disadvantaged
humans just decades ago, and we should be ashamed to accept it today.
Defenders of animal tests argue that the advancement of science and human
safety outweighs animal welfare concerns. But researchers have known for years
that the results of animal tests can never be reliably assumed relevant to
humans. An EPA official at a recent conference on neurotoxicity admitted: "We know
the rat isn't the right model. It's like being in a bad marriage – you know
you should get out but you don't because there's so much history there."
There is no good reason not to summarily end all behavioral studies of
primates and other animals in laboratory settings when we can now travel to even the
remotest corners of the earth and observe animals in their homes, without
molesting them. And there is no good reason not to divorce ourselves from
barbarous and needless animal tests and switch to more sophisticated modern testing
methods. The use of whole human DNA, computer screens of human data and in
vitro testing using human cells, unlike animal experiments, are relevant to the
Undoubtedly, we will look back on the treatment of animals in labs, as we
have done with so many past injustices, with horror. May we be able to say that
each of us had the nerve, the principle and the vision to help put an end to
Ingrid Newkirk is president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
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