Breaking: We’re Taking USDA to Court

Frances Chrzan, December 15, 2020

We want every animal out of labs in our lifetime—that’s our mission. That’s ultimately what we’re fighting for. We know it’s going to take effort, resources, constant determination, time, and support from you, and other caring people like you. Without your support none of our work is possible. Unfortunately, all of this important work won’t happen overnight. We want this cruel use of animals to stop completely, but what happens to them in the meantime? 

Living a life in a lab is terrible. I can’t imagine how boring it would be to be isolated from all my peers and to see the same surroundings day in and day out for years. To experience nothing natural or interesting. To be in a constant state of fear due to not knowing the next time I’d be cut open or poked and prodded. To be kept in a small, metal box with no sunlight on my skin, no feeling of the earth between my toes. I’d go crazy.

The fact that the laboratory setting is unnatural and cruel isn’t a secret.

Experimenters know that forcing animals to live like this is psychologically damaging. They see it. They recognize it in the animals’ behavior—rocking, self-harming, self-soothing, repeating behaviors. The psychological damage is so obvious that in 1991, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented a regulation requiring that every lab make a “plan” for promoting the psychological health of primates. However, USDA didn’t detail what these plans should look like. They just left it up to each individual lab to come up with its own standards. 

Then, in 2013, while chimpanzee experiments were still federally funded, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created specific standards for promoting psychological wellbeing for chimps in experiments. Specifically, they outlined standards for housing chimps in adequate space and with appropriate socialization. They made uniform requirements, following the advice of experts like Jane Goodall. A few years later, legislation was passed to stop chimp experiments, because it was determined that experimenting on chimps is unethical due to the similarities between chimps and humans. 

As of today, nothing has changed for monkeys in labs, the 1991 rule still applies. There are no set standards that labs have to follow to make sure these monkeys are psychologically healthy.

In 2014, we partnered with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) to petition USDA to make a rule like NIH did for chimps, but instead of it applying to only one kind of primate, we asked USDA to apply specific psychological wellbeing standards to all nonhuman primates. USDA took public comments into consideration about whether to make this rule. USDA received over 10,000 comments, 99% of which asked USDA to grant the petition.

In 2019, USDA denied our petition.

On December 4, 2020, with the help of Harvard University’s Animal Law Clinic, ALDF and Rise sued USDA over its denial. We hope this lawsuit will require USDA to create a standard rule regarding primate psychological enrichment.

We want every animal to live a life of freedom, comfort, and happiness. We want every animal out of labs, living lives of luxury in sanctuary or loving homes. We want every animal to be safe. Right now, we work hard to turn these dreams into reality. We also understand that time is a factor in victory. While we work to free animals from labs, we also fight to make their lives in labs better, in whatever ways possible. We want every monkey in every lab to be psychologically as healthy as possible. We want undeniable, concrete standards for labs to follow. Clear guidelines. 

We’re optimistic about this lawsuit. The government may not want to give monkeys better living conditions in labs because then they might have to admit to themselves that all monkeys think and feel and ultimately, it’s unethical to torture them in experiments. That all animals suffer and they won’t be able to justify cutting them open then throwing their bodies away in the trash.

This is a fight we can win. 

We won’t stop fighting to help animals in labs in every way we can think of. We can’t do this without you. Your support is essential to our success. Together, let’s make life in labs a little easier on every monkey used in experiments. Please consider making a donation today, we appreciate you making our work possible.