A report released Tuesday by a working group of experts recommended that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) retire all but approximately 50 of 360 research chimpanzees currently owned by the agency, and that they begin planning sanctuary housing “immediately.” The group was formed a year ago at the request of NIH director Francis Collins in response to a December 2011 Institute of Medicine report that established strict criteria for “scientific necessity” of research animals. The group’s report also advised the cancellation of experiments that did not currently meet this criteria. “[The] recommendations are not binding; Collins is expected to provide a response in late March, after a 60-day period of public comment.”
What’s the Big Idea?
The report comes one month after an announcement that 113 other NIH research chimpanzees were to be retired to a Louisiana sanctuary, and signals a sea change in the way the animals are viewed by some in the scientific community. Not surprisingly, animal rights activists welcomed the news; meanwhile, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, which houses 91 chimpanzees of its own, released a statement saying that the recommendations would hinder their efforts “to prevent and treat human diseases that afflict millions of Americans as well as hundreds of millions of people living in other countries.”