Research Animals: More? Or Less?Posted by Dana Campbell, ALDF Attorney on August 26, 2009
How apropos that the same week I received an invitation to an upcoming national symposium on animals and toxicity testing to occur in Portland Oregon, I also saw a news story about how the Oregon National Primate Research Center (ONPRC), which is located in a Portland suburb, is seeking millions in stimulus money to expand its facilities to house more primates for more research. Accident? Coincidence? Ironic is what I’d call it.
Now from what I understand, ONPRC does not do much toxicity testing; its focus is on behavioral and biomedical research on a population of about 4,200 nonhuman primates. It is run by Oregon Health Science University, which states on its website that it is Portland’s largest, and the state’s fourth largest employer, operating with an annual budget of $1.4 billion and more than 12,400 employees. According to the article I saw in the Willamette Week newspaper, ONPRC is asking for $14.8 million in stimulus funds for a new building with more cages to relieve a shortage of cage space since the population has significantly increased, and to add a bunch of amenities like a monkey nursery and healthcare facility. The article quotes ONPRC’s director as saying it is unable to keep pace with the growing demand for experiments, thus the breeding bonanza and housing shortage. I’m not really sure how more monkey cages will stimulate the economy, but there you have it.
Trending the opposite direction in animal research is the field of toxicity testing, which may be on the verge of making significant breakthroughs in improving scientific outcomes in chemical and other substance testing using alternatives to testing on animals, a vision outlined in the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council Report on Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century. This is the topic of the symposium, which will bring together experts in toxicology, environmental law, animal law, risk analysis, and policy implementation for “an open dialogue and exchange of ideas.”
I recently attended a presentation on animals and toxicity testing in which I was stunned to hear the speaker estimate that by merely requiring researchers to share their research results with other scientists to decrease duplicate testing, and by harmonizing chemical testing standards, several million animals would be immediately spared from use in unnecessary research.
Given that Portland also happens to be the home of two of the symposium’s sponsors, the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis and Clark Law School and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (our Criminal Justice Program office is there), one must conclude it is neither accident nor coincidence that the symposium landed in Portland. However, juxtaposed as it is with ONPRC, the irony is unmistakable.