A rhesus macaque monkey stares upwards.

July 09, 2020Former researcher supports lawsuit by Harvard law clinic for better treatment of primates

For Immediate Release, July 9, 2020

BOSTON, Mass. – On behalf of the New England Anti-Vivisection Society and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Harvard’s Animal Law and Policy Clinic today filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failure to protect primates used in biomedical research.

The lawsuit comes as a result of the USDA’s rejection of a 2014 petition by the animal protection groups asking the USDA to promulgate better standards for the psychological well-being of all non-human primates similar to those adopted a year earlier in 2013 by its sister agency the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for chimpanzees used in federally funded research. The Animal Welfare Act was amended in 1985 to require the USDA to promulgate standards that promote “the psychological well-being” of primates.

This latest lawsuit claims the USDA’s rejection of the 2014 Petition is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law,” given that the current standards were written in 1991 when much less was known about the psychological needs of these animals, those standards long ago criticized by USDA’s own inspectors as too vague and unenforceable, and the current standards fall far short of what the NIH concluded was necessary to protect the psychological well-being of chimpanzees—i.e., being housed with others of their species, having access to the outdoors, and being able to climb on structures and manipulate objects. The new lawsuit seeks to protect the tens of thousands of other primates—macaques, marmosets, and baboons—used in research in this country. As lamented by one participant at an NIH-sponsored Symposium on Animal Welfare and Scientific Research, “[i]f you show a picture of a primate cage from 40 years ago and a primate cage now, it’s basically the same: it’s all metal with a perch added.”

Former primate researcher Dr. John Gluck, with first-hand knowledge of what goes on in primate labs, hails the lawsuit as a much needed effort to protect these animals from inhumane treatments: “I’m proud to support Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic taking legal action against the USDA for failing to enact concrete, measurable, and enforceable regulatory definitions, standards, and criteria that are needed to enable meaningful regulation of the psychological well-being of primates used in research. It’s long past time for the USDA to implement specific minimum standards to enforce the Animal Welfare Act’s mandate for psychological well-being. I hope the courts will listen.”

The Clinic’s director, Katherine Meyer, added: “If these primates are going to continue to be used in the thousands for the benefit of humans, they at least deserve to be treated as humanely as possible while waiting to be experimented on, during the experiments, and while recuperating – that’s the least we can do for them.”

Notes to Editors

The full Complaint, images, video, and statistics on the numbers of NHPs used in research in different locations are available on request. Dr. John Gluck, the student who worked on the Complaint, and others are available for interview.

Media Contact

Sarah Pickering, spickering@law.harvard.edu, + 1 (617) 852 6484.