A law that is supposed to give laboratory monkeys special protection has failed to prevent large numbers of the primates being subjected to “unnecessary and unjustifiable” testing in the UK, a leading animal rights organisation claims.
The research is largely conducted in secret in universities, hospitals, contract testing facilities and Government laboratories, according to Cruelty Free International, formerly the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV).
A review of monkey experiments had found evidence of alleged “distressing, invasive and harmful” treatment that made a mockery of the animals’ “special protection” status, the organisation said.
Dr Katy Taylor, director of science at Cruelty Free International, said: “‘Our report shows that it is still far too easy for these highly intelligent and social animals to be used in extremely cruel and distressing experiments that are wasteful and even frivolous in their design.
“Far from helping produce cures for debilitating human diseases, most of the experiments appear to have minimal benefits for humans and give the impression of having more to do with defending the continued use of primates or satisfying the curiosity of researchers than advancing medical science.”
While experiments on great apes such as chimpanzees are banned in the UK, testing of other non-human primates is allowed.
A European Union directive says monkey testing should be permitted only when it involves basic research, life-threatening or debilitating human conditions, or preservation of the relevant primate species.
The UK is the third largest user of primates in the EU, conducting experiments on more than 2,000 animals each year, Cruelty Free International said.
Most of the tests were to assess the long-term toxicity of drugs and their results were generally not published, it alleged.
Their effects were said to include vomiting, internal bleeding, respiratory distress, fever, weight loss, lethargy, skin problems and death.
Other work involved HIV/Aids, Parkinson’s disease, neurological disorders and behaviour experiments.
Military studies also exposed monkeys to biological warfare agents, it was claimed.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are working with the scientific community and with international regulators to promote alternative measures that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research and testing.”