The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will phase out monkey experiments at one of its labs in Poolesville, Maryland. The action, first reported today by BuzzFeed, follows an intense year-long campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), though the agency says it is ending the experiments for purely financial reasons.
The lab in question is part of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). It is run by Stephen Suomi, who studies how early environment shapes behavior. Some of his work involves separating young monkeys from their mothers, measuring their addiction to alcohol, and monitoring their long-term stress levels.
PETA began targeting the lab in the fall of 2014, first with an ad campaign that blanketed the Washington, D.C., area accusing Suomi’s team of traumatizing the animals. In December of last year, four members of Congress asked NIH to investigate the lab, but NIH said it found no major issues. In October of this year, PETA sent hundreds of letters to the neighbors of Suomi and NIH Director Francis Collins, accusing the lab of “cruel psychological experiments” and revealing both Suomi’s and Collins’s home addresses and telephone numbers.
NIH plans to transfer the lab’s approximately 300 monkeys to other facilities across the country over the next 3 years. "This decision was based on internal programmatic priorities and the desire to optimize research efficiency," NICHD said in a statement today. "The [lab] may continue to analyze behavioral data and to conduct experiments on collected samples, but no animals will be involved."
NIH told BuzzFeed that the decision was not influenced by the PETA campaign.
ScienceInsider will update this story on Monday.
*Update, 14 December, 1:30 p.m.: This story has been changed to reflect the fact that NIH is not immediately ending the monkey experiments but rather phasing them out.