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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Chimps on the Hill

The U.S. House of Representatives will host a special exhibit tomorrow featuring photographs and video footage that tell the powerful story of chimpanzees currently confined in U.S. laboratories—some for more than 50 years—and those living in sanctuaries. If you are in the Washington area, I hope you will be there.

While many Americans were experiencing the excitement of the first man walking on the moon, some of these chimps were growing up behind bars. Approximately 1,000 of these highly intelligent and social creatures are languishing in cages, while ironically are largely unused in active research. Five hundred of them are owned by the federal government at great cost to American taxpayers. This warehousing and research is expensive—to the tune of around $25 million per year. And it takes a major toll not only on taxpayers but also on the chimps themselves.

Chimp2
The Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326) will end the
use of chimps in invasive research and also stop the
fleecing of American taxpayers.

That’s why Congress needs to pass the Great Ape Protection Act (H.R. 1326), championed by U.S. Reps. Ed Towns (D-N.Y.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), and Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.). The legislation would require that the 500 federally-owned chimps be retired to sanctuary, that invasive research on all 1,000 chimpanzees be phased out, and that National Institutes of Health administrative ban on breeding chimps for research be codified.

Chimpanzees have proven to be ineffective for research purposes, despite their extraordinary similarity to people. The 2% difference between their DNA and that of humans accounts for significant differences in immunity and disease progression. Researchers discovered this when studying HIV—finding that chimpanzees do not develop AIDS from HIV like humans do.

Given the fact that chimp research has hardly been critical to research efforts, the high cost of caring for a chimp in a laboratory (ranging anywhere from $36 to $60 per day), and the serious ethical implications involved, it’s not surprising that there has been a significant decline in the use of chimps in invasive research over the past few decades. Retiring these animals to sanctuaries is not only the right thing to do, but would also be less expensive—saving taxpayers millions of dollars annually.

While chimpanzee research is expensive and rarely applied, Americans also find it simply unethical. A 2006 study found that 71% of respondents feel that chimpanzees housed in laboratories for more than ten years should be retired. In 2001, 54% of people surveyed were opposed to chimpanzee research that caused pain, even for human benefit. The United States is, after all, the only developed nation in the world where chimps are still used in invasive experiments.

One-fifth of all House members have already signed on as cosponsors of the Great Ape Protection Act. It’s time to pass this common-sense legislation to not only give these chimpanzees the reprieve that they deserve, but also to stop the fleecing of American taxpayers.

I invite you to join us from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 28, in the foyer of the Rayburn House Office Building, to learn more about this critical bill and the creatures whose lives are at stake.

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