This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by editorial page staff and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers
Monday, January 10, 2011
For now, 186 are safe. That leaves more than 800 to go.
The first is the number of chimps housed at the Alamogordo Primate Facility, spared from new invasive testing thanks to groundwork laid by former Gov. Bill Richardson and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall and newfound compassion and common sense from New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.
The second is the number of chimps the United States has warehoused in other facilities around the country for "research."
The matriarch at Alamogordo, 53-year-old Flo, has been around since the federal government dressed chimps up in little spacesuits for public consumption. What the public hasn't seen in the ensuing years are the more than 115 times she has endured chemical-dart knockdowns for blood and liver biopsies, the injections of industrial solvents and "angel dust," the chronic cardiac arrhythmia, inflamed lungs and anesthesia-induced seizures.
Flo and the other 185 Alamogordo chimps had been spared from testing for the past decade, but all were scheduled to return to pointless invasive procedures this year at a lab in San Antonio, Texas.
No other developed nation in the world still uses chimps for testing.
Chimps, like humans, have the capacity to suffer psychological distress, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. But the testing is pointless, because unlike humans they do not handle disease in the same ways.
In fact, they are so different on a cellular level that decades of attempts to use them to study/prevent/cure everything from cancer to hepatitis to AIDS have proven fruitless.
After Udall toured the Alamogordo Primate Facility and requested a meeting with the National Institutes of Health (which had ordered testing resumed) and Richardson traveled to D.C. and fired off a nine-page request complete with footnotes to the secretary of Agriculture, the three senators joined forces to ask the independent National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the value of invasive chimp research and NIH to stand down on relocating New Mexico's chimps until that 18-month review is complete.
In the meantime, there are plans to reintroduce the Great Ape Protection Act in this 112th Congress, where last session saw 161 co-sponsors in the House and six in the Senate.
Spearheaded by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the act would not only end the experiments but release the hundreds of federally-owned chimps to sanctuaries — something Richardson advocated for in the case of the Alamogordo chimps.
It makes sense morally, scientifically and financially — the lifetime tab for maintaining one chimpanzee in a lab has been estimated at nearly $900,000 plus the cost of any research. Convert that housing to a nonprofit sanctuary — in May the current Alamogordo contract expires —and the daily price tag drops from $67 a day to $41. That would save $50 million for the Alamogordo chimps alone.
The Alamogordo chimps now have 18 months of breathing room. Congress should use that time to make their reprieve apply to the 15 Alamogordo chimps that have already been shipped to Texas and the hundreds warehoused around the country — permanently.
Posted with permission from the Albuquerque Publishing Company.