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Animal advocacy group says OHSU rep lied about PETA doctoring videos of monkeys in cages at animal research labs

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Dr. Mary Zelinski, a research associate professor at OHSU, shows female students a cryopreservation experiment during a hands-on STEM presentation at Hillsboro's Evergreen Middle School in 2019. An animal rights group issued a cease and desist letter to OHSU recently over statements made to students by an OHSU representative.Oregon Health & Science University was slapped with a cease and desist order for reportedly lying to 6th grade students about whether an animal rights group doctored videos from OHSU's primate testing lab.

The animal rights advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a cease and desist letter to the health care organization, citing false statements made to 6th graders during an Oct. 21 presentation by an OHSU rep from the Primate Research Center. PETA's letter claims Diana Gordon, a representative with the Oregon National Primate Research Center, visited a class at Portland's Cottonwood School for Civics and Science, in advance of an upcoming field trip to ONPRC.SCREENSHOT - Diana Gordon, education and outreach coordinator at the Oregon National Primate Research Center

According to PETA, "11-year-old Zuma Mullock asked questions based on PETA's video exposés of the ONPRC, which revealed that monkeys were terrorized by staff; denied veterinary care and pain relief; driven insane by confinement in small, barren cages; and killed in experiments. The OHSU representative then lied to the class, stating that PETA had manipulated video footage in order to make cages appear smaller than they are."

Asher Smith, director of litigation for the PETA Foundation, asked OHSU to retract and apologize for the statements made to students.

"Such statements are blatantly intended to convey a false and defamatory representation of PETA, its investigator, and its investigations," Asher wrote in the letter to OHSU. "As with every PETA investigation, footage captured and published by PETA shows only the truth — here, a true and accurate depiction of conditions at ONPRC."

PHOTO COURTESY: OHSU/KRISTYNA WENTZ-GRAFF - Japanese macaques at the Oregon National Primate Research Center, run by OHSU.

OHSU declined to comment on whether the organization believes PETA manipulated videos, but pointed to a lengthy explanation issued in 2020 outlining its research methods and primate living conditions.

"The overall objective of this research is to identify early environmental risk factors for mental health disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), anxiety and depression," a July 2020 statement on OHSU's site states. "Mental health disorders are very common, with 1 in 6 U.S. children diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. More than 6 million U.S. children currently are diagnosed with ADHD and 4.4 million are diagnosed with anxiety. It is well-recognized that smoking (reported in 7.2% of women) and drinking (reported in 11.5% of women) while pregnant can be detrimental to the developing child. However, few people recognize the influence that a mother's diet can have on a baby's brain development and behavior.

"It is challenging to study maternal diet in human participants due to difficulty in accurately monitoring food intake and ethical issues related to manipulating the diet of pregnant women. The use of nonhuman primates is important, as they have similar timing of brain development, similar brain structure and similar complex behavior as humans. Further, environmental factors, such as the mother's diet, can be carefully controlled."

OHSU said the videos show a battery of tests that measure changes in temperament in response to stimuli like a human intruder and a novel object. The research university hospital said its monkeys are kept in indoor/outdoor enclosures in groups of 12 to 15 primates. The organization said its primate enclosures have swings, pools for use during the summer, puzzle feeders and toys for the monkeys to use.

"The primate center, rather than admitting that animal care needs a major overhaul, has chosen to deceive students, including by attempting to show them only the few monkeys caged outdoors when hundreds of monkeys in tiny cages are being tormented in cruel experiments inside its labs," Smith said in a news release, noting PETA intends to press the issue until OHSU retracts its statement.

"PETA is going to press this issue until OHSU retracts its false statements and is urging The Cottonwood School to replace its upcoming field trip with an activity that will teach students that 21st century science lies in human-relevant research."

Representatives from the Cottonwood School did not respond to questions about whether the field trip took place.

This isn't the first time PETA has sparred with OHSU. PETA has repeatedly denounced the experiments on primates and other animals at OHSU's animal research facilities, citing repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including mishaps where monkeys were killed.

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