For more than two decades, experimenters at the National Institute on Aging (NIA, part of the National Institutes of Health) and the University of Wisconsin–Madison (UW–Madison) starved caged monkeys—depriving them of a whopping 30 percent of needed calories—to see if this would increase their longevity. Now, the vivisectors at NIA have announced that the extreme, prolonged deprivation had no effect on the monkeys’ life span.
Hungry, Lonely, and Scared
The NIA studies, funded by taxpayers, started in 1987, and the UW–Madison studies began in 1989. At both facilities—and also at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, where similar experiments are being conducted—the monkeys, in addition to being kept chronically hungry in a semi-starved state, were imprisoned in tiny barren cages and condemned to a lifetime of isolation, without even the simplest benefit of any cage mates. As journalist Gina Kolata described in The New York Times:
For 25 years, the rhesus monkeys were kept semi-starved, lean and hungry. The males’ weights were so low they were the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall man who tipped the scales at just 120 to 133 pounds. The hope was that if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less, then maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would, too.
When the studies at UW–Madison were first made public in 2009, PETA filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the university’s egregious violations of the Animal Welfare Act. In addition, PETA complained to the UW–Madison Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, but our concerns were dismissed.
Failing Animals, Science, and Humanity
Now, after decades of condemning intelligent, sensitive monkeys to protracted suffering, the vivisectors have admitted that their experiments not only failed to make their point but also were poorly designed: The monkeys were fed a diet that was 28.5 percent sucrose (i.e., empty calories). So, in addition to being ethically inexcusable, the experiments were scientifically nonsensical.
But no matter what the experimenters were trying to prove, it was wrong to cage and starve these monkeys. All so-called “calorie-restriction experiments” (that’s vivisector lingo for “starving animals”) should be banned now. Primates are extremely intelligent animals who form intricate social relationships, experience the same wide range of emotions that we do, and exhibit a capacity for suffering similar to ours. Rhesus macaque monkeys have been shown to use tools, count, and communicate complex information. Monkeys can also express empathy, and they possess a sense of fairness—something that many experimenters seem to lack.
What You Can Do
We each have a role to play in helping monkeys and other primates suffering in laboratories. Please urge the federal government to stop wasting our tax dollars on cruel and pointless experiments on animals.