Primate Experimentation in the US:
The Facts We Weren’t Supposed to Know

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Primate Experimentation in the US: The Facts We Weren’t Supposed to Know
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T.
513-575-5517 [email protected]  


The use of primates in experimentation is an extremely controversial issue. Some scientists claim that primate experimentation is crucial to medical advancement.1 Others claim that the use of primates has not contributed to advances in the diseases that are currently killing humans (i.e. heart disease, cancer, HIV, etc.) 2 While humans are more closely related to primates than to other species, primates may still be too dissimilar to be suitable subjects in studies of human diseases.

Many people also have significant ethical concerns regarding the use of primates in experimentation. Due to the social nature of primates, their confinement in laboratories has significant consequences. If primates are psychologically similar to human beings in their ability to suffer, then the use of primates in potentially painful/stressful projects should raise serious moral questions.

However, with the expansion of certain fields of investigation, experimentation on primates is likely to increase in coming years. Expansion of the Primate Centers is currently underway with concurrent increases in funding.

Therefore, this is a particularly relevant time to be placing primate experimentation in general, and the larger primate labs in particular, under closer scrutiny. This report marks the second step of such an effort.

This report will discuss the amount of funding given to primate experimentation on the national level. While the funding issue is being discussed, the closely related area of experimental duplication (and the potential waste of federal funding) will also be examined.

This document will also examine the conditions primates are subjected to within laboratories. While it is currently difficult to discuss the situation within all laboratories, certain specific labs will be examined regarding the way that primates are treated.

One basic area that has become difficult to discuss is the actual number of primates in laboratories. While the number of primates in labs has been released by the USDA in a more thorough way than ever before, the classification system used in releasing this information has made it impossible to compare current statistics with similar statistics from previous years. As a result, it will be impossible to discuss trends based on the cumulative statistics promulgated by the USDA. However, trends involving the use of primates in experimentation can still be discussed by utilizing a different methodology.

The data source for comparing primate populations will be specific documents for the larger primate labs in the US. The reader will see that a substantial percentage of the primates within US labs are centralized in just a few facilities. Therefore, this report will utilize two sources to provide data on these large facilities. USDA reports for specific facilities and NIH progress reports for other facilities will be the informational base for the determination of the direction of primate experimentation.

In summary, this report will provide invaluable information regarding the number of primates within labs, the types of experiments performed on primates, the number of projects using primates, the funding of primate experimentation on the national level, and the conditions within labs that use primates.


1 Expert Panel’s Recommendations for the Regional Primate Research Centers Program, January 18, 2001, Office of Science Policy and Public Liaison

2 Is Primate – Modeled Research Crucial, C. Ray Greek, in Pathways to Progress, at  

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