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University of Louisiana, NIH, Face Primate Violations Allegations

Note: This item has been updated

An undercover investigation of the New Iberia Research Center in Lafayette, Louisiana, has led the Humane Society of the United States to allege that the primate research facility has violated hundreds of animal welfare regulations. The Humane Society also has evidence, provided to ScienceInsider, that the U.S. National Institutes of Health violated its own moratorium on breeding chimpanzees for biomedical research, awarding New Iberia a contract to provide infant chimps to government investigators.

(Update: In response to ScienceInsider's query about its contract with the Center, NIH issued a statement on 5 March that says the institution did not violate its breeding moratorium. The contract was with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases  and the moratorium only applies to chimpanzees that are owned or supported by NIH's National Center for Research Resources. What's more, the statement says: "The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) does not support a chimp breeding colony at NIRC and does not conduct chimp research at NIRC. NIAID leases chimpanzees for use in infectious disease research at other accredited facilities." )

New Iberia, part of the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, houses more than 6000 monkeys and about 325 chimpanzees, making it one of the country’s largest primate facilities. Between December 2007 and September 2008, a New Iberia employee working with the society secretly videotaped the care and handling of chimpanzees and monkeys at New Iberia. The worker's findings led the group to file a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that alleges 328 possible violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Humane Society officials would not release the complaint but says it questions the quality of veterinary care and housing conditions, as well as the psychological well-being of the chimpanzees and monkeys. “A major issue for us is the psychological deprivation and torment that these animals are enduring,” said Wayne Pacelle, the Humane Society's president. ABC News has a major story with further details.

(Update, 9:26pm Statement from New Iberia: " Nothing in the videos alter the fact that the New Iberia Research Center is in compliance with all federal standards and guidelines regarding the care and use of animals, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control.")

Recent USDA inspections of the facility in regards to the handling and care of the primates found only minor violations.

The Humane Society gave ScienceInsider a copy of a $6.2 million grant from NIH to New Iberia that explicitly pays the facility to supply researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with four to 12 infant chimpanzees between September 2002 and 2009.

Pacelle says his group is working with Congress to introduce legislation that would ban all biomedical research with chimpanzees. Several European countries and Japan already have similar bans in place.