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Animal Experimenters Jeer and Threaten Protestors Near UCLA Campus

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It was reminiscent of the throngs that greeted African-American schoolgirl Elizabeth Eckford when she tried to desegregate Little Rock Central High School in 1957 and James Meredith when he tried to desegregate the University of Mississippi in 1962. An angry mob of as many as 40 UCLA animal experimenters and their supporters jeered and yelled obscenities and threats at 11 peaceful demonstrators who had gathered on a public street, near the UCLA campus and the home of a UCLA animal researcher. The protestors were holding a silent vigil in honor of eleven primates held in UCLA research labs.

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"Go home!" "F---You!" jeered the pro research counter demonstrators, their faces contorted with rage, their middle fingers extended. "You kill people!" they chanted. Some pro animal research protesters became so livid they had to be restrained by police. It was hard to believe the mob was, by day, men and women of "science" dedicated to advancing human medicine.

Why were the experimenters and their allies enraged? A group called Progress for Science dares to question taxpayer funded primate research conducted at UCLA--experiments like exposing primates to methamphetamine to study addiction and injecting pregnant monkeys with the endocrine disrupter bisphenol A to study the effects on development of infants. While the group says it is against all animal research, it has particularly focused on the non-human primate research occurring at UCLA. Opinion has begun to reverse about some primate research. Last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it would begin retiring most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research. Chimps are "our closest relatives," said NIH director, Dr. Francis S. Collins.

But doesn't animal research such "saves lives"? That is certainly what the government/research university complex hopes we think. But if you follow the money, you see it has much more to do with "pork" than innovation or breakthroughs. NIH is the biggest funder of animal research in the United States, doling out over $12 billion for animal experiments. The lavish animal research NIH grants--of which UCLA is the 10th largest recipient--don't just fund the experimenters' comfortable lifestyles, Dr. Carol Glasser, a co-founder of Progress for Science, told me. They fund the research institutions themselves. "Fifty percent or more" of the animal grants are skimmed off by the university says Dr. Glasser, professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota, Mankato and a co-founder of Progress for Science.

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Yet what does all that money buy? Consider the millions of NIH dollars that have funded experiments of UCLA researcher Edythe London. For almost thirty years, the animal researcher has addicted primates to methamphetamine and nicotine to reveal that" methamphetamine and nicotine are addictive! If London's work seems repetitive, it is repetitive says Dr. Glasser. "It is easier to extend an NIH grant than write a new one."

A government grant allocated $3.6 million on experiments to study how heroin, crystal meth, and Angel Dust affect menstruating monkeys, says White Coat Waste, a new watchdog group exposing tax payer funded animal experiments.

While animal experimenters, including the angry throng near UCLA, proclaim the experiments save human lives, some scientific voices say the animal research is a misallocation of funds and resources that could better be used with people. For example, London's experiments with methamphetamine and nicotine can be and have been done on human subjects, says Dr. Glasser.

"In humans, diagnostic criteria for substance abuse and addiction disorders typically include work-related problems, legal problems, interpersonal problems, physical impairment, or tolerance and withdrawal symptoms," Hope Ferdowsian, MD, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Georgetown University Medical Center and Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at George Washington University told me. "Although most of these symptoms cannot develop in animals, addiction experiments commonly use nonhuman primates, dogs, cats, and other animals anyway. These experiments raise many ethical concerns related to food and water restriction, severe pain and distress, and chronic social isolation."

Edythe London, the UCLA animal experimenter, wrote in a Los Angeles Times oped in 2007 that her addiction research comes from compassion for human beings and "is rooted in the untimely death of my father, who died of complications of nicotine dependence." Yet she also admits some of her "work was funded by Philip Morris USA"--$6 million according to press reports. What?

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Taking rich stipends from the government or Big Tobacco is not tangential to the animal research story. It is the story. It is not love of science or belief that animal research will soon cure human disease that caused the menacing, and hate-filled faces of the pro-animal experimenters shown on the video . It is the threat to the loss of their lavish salaries funded by millions in NIH grants. Nor is it a coincidence that those against the primate experiments are not funded.

Research lucre is also the reason the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act was passed in 2006 which criminalized interference with "the operations of an animal enterprise" such as animal research--First Amendment be damned. (Big Food is trying to pass similar gag laws in the ag field.) It is the reason elaborate and redundant security systems protect government-funded animal research at universities including intricate underground tunnels at some universities. There is even a chilling "species bowl" among animal experimenters as they try to move up from lowly rodents to cats or primates in their government funded research.

There is probably not an industry on earth, including the slaughter industry, more afraid of "transparency" than animal experimentation. Ever since Alex Pacheco of PETA exposed the "Silver Springs monkeys" in 1981, animal experimenters have been reduced to uttering "it's not how it looks" or "let us explain" when grisly images surface. As lab experiments were exposed and animals rescued in 1980s and early 1990s, sometimes with accompanying videos, much animal research looked not only cruel but unnecessary and frivolous. Animals were being treated like paper towels.

At first, the animal research industry tried to fight back with campaigns like "your daughter or your dog." These experiments are necessary, said the researchers and the choice is between animals and people. Then it tried to "humanize" itself by replacing dog labs with pig labs, at some research centers, a less loved animal, and stressing its dedication to humane treatment. But by the 2000s, the industry simply hunkered down and fought back. It proclaimed that the public would have to "trust us" because non-scientists can't judge the merit of scientific research. (Like taxpayer funded research that tell us methamphetamine and nicotine are addictive?) And it enacted the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

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Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)

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