People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has released video excerpts of experiments on Japanese macaques at the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Hillsboro.
PETA obtained the videos last month after a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge ruled the videos were public records and ordered Oregon Health & Science University, which runs the research center, to turn them over in April.
The videos show experiments conducted since 2011 by Dr. Elinor Sullivan, an associate professor at OHSU and a faculty member at the research center.
Attorneys for PETA argue the videos are highly controversial because they show "pain and suffering" in young macaques and are partially funded by public research money. Sullivan's research received more than $5 million in public money between 2011 and 2019.
OHSU says the macaques were monitored closely and if they engaged in any behaviors that could potentially cause injury, "the test would have been stopped," according to an article about the experiments published on OHSU's website on July 6. The article also included other video excerpts of the experiments not released by PETA.
In an Aug. 17 letter, PETA called on OHSU President Danny Jacobs to end all experiments on monkeys and to close the research center.
The videos show behavioral research into the anxiety and stress responses of 11-month-old Japanese macaques, including experiments called a "novel object test" and a "human intruder test."
In the experiments, researchers fed different diets to two groups of pregnant mother macaques. One group received a "control diet of standard monkey chow" and another group received a "Western-style diet (with a higher content of fat and sugar) designed to mimic the average American diet," OHSU said.
"The video shows some of Sullivan's 'junk food' experiments, which involved impregnating monkeys and feeding some of them high-fat food," PETA said in a statement. "The babies were separated from their mothers or friends, placed in an unfamiliar room, and locked inside a small, barren cage, where they were deliberately frightened."
These animals are not fed "junk food," OHSU said. The Western-style diet consisted of "ground oat hulls, casein and wheat flour."
The university also said, "All of the juvenile monkeys that took part in this study lived within indoor/outdoor social groups, consisting of about 12 to 15 other monkeys. Their enclosures have swings, pools (in the summertime), puzzle feeders and toys for the monkeys to use."
After the mother macaques gave birth and the babies reached an age equivalent to a 3-year-old human, researchers tested each group of monkeys to see how they respond to human intruders and novel objects. Researchers monitor the "temperament (boldness versus shyness), anxiety and stress" of the monkeys, OHSU said.
The purpose of the experiments is to "identify early environmental risk factors for mental health disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, anxiety and depression," OHSU says.
Some videos show lab assistants approaching the macaques and making gestures considered threatening such as making sustained eye contact. The macaques respond by repetitively making loud noises, making submissive facial gestures or moving about their cages as if they're trying to escape.
Other videos show lab assistants presenting the monkeys with novel objects or foods to see how long it takes for the monkeys to interact with them.
"It's easy to see why OHSU tried so hard to hide these cruel, pointless 'junk food' experiments," said PETA Vice President Dr. Alka Chandna in a statement. "This indefensible abuse of sensitive monkeys must stop now."
OHSU denied PETA's request for the videos and cited the Faculty Research Exemption in Oregon's public records law. OHSU argued that research ideas could be stolen if the videos of unpublished research were released to the public.
OHSU's history of violating regulations regarding animal harm was a factor in the judge's decision to order the release of the videos, court records show.
OHSU's Primate Research Center has received a dozen violations related to the welfare of its animals since 2017. Several animals at the facility died recently after they became entangled in equipment or trapped behind wall-hung cages. Another died after it was injected with the incorrect amount of insulin, according to PETA's lawsuit.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.