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Stop Animal Exploitation NOW!
S. A. E. N.
"Exposing the truth to wipe out animal experimentation"

Media Coverage

Animal-rights activist finds path blocked at conference on primates

Scientists say that he is just after publicity

By Laura Giovanelli
Thursday, June 21, 2007

Michael Budkie eyed the Winston-Salem police officers walking into the Benton Convention Center.

There was one, then another.

Budkie leaned against the sliding glass doors, a slight man in wire-rim glasses, a navy suit and a worn-looking burgundy tie, looking almost as straight-laced as the scientists walking past him, lining up to get their official lime-green tote bags at this year's conference of the American Society of Primatologists.

Budkie shrugged. "I didn't know I was such a threat," he said quietly.

An animal-rights activist and the founder and executive director of SAEN, or Stop Animal Exploitation Now, Budkie regularly garners headlines across the country as he demonstrates and holds news conferences to protest animal-research labs. He was trained as an animal-health technician and has worked in veterinary offices, he said.

But he wasn't among the 300 or so researchers, academics and conservationists that Wake Forest University, this year's conference sponsor, wanted to show up for the first day of meetings yesterday afternoon.

Nor did they really expect him to attend such talks as "The Chimpanzee Mind: Studies in the Field and the Laboratory," or presentations on such topics as "Plasticity, Development, and the Social Environment: Vocal Communication in the Marmoset."

Not that Budkie hadn't tried. He printed out a registration form in April, checked the box marked "nonmember," scribbled his credit-card number and mailed it. By April 24, he had an answer.

"Dear Mr. Budkie," the letter read. "Your application to register for the upcoming annual meeting of the American Society of Primatologists has raised questions regarding the society's policies as to who may attend the meeting. We will be discussing these matters at the upcoming meeting and developing policy for future meetings but, in the meantime, we are declining your registration. Your credit card will not be charged."

So Budkie got in his car and drove to Winston-Salem from his home in Ohio. He reserved a conference room at the Hawthorne Inn and yesterday morning, invited local media to a news conference about cruelty in animal research.

Specifically he complained about research in brain mapping using monkeys at Wake Forest and Duke universities, and handed out copies of recent complaints against the two schools that he had sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Then he drove to the convention center, where he tried to register for the conference.

The first time he walked through, no one paid attention.

The second time, he was accompanied by a reporter and photographer. That got him noticed. Three burly men stopped him just inside the entrance.

About half an hour later, as the conference began and Budkie walked to the registration desk, Suzette Tardiff, the association's president, told him that he couldn't attend.

"I'm not going to discuss it any further," Tardiff told him.

Another conference official asked him to leave. By now, the police seemed to have lost interest; Budkie passed just one officer as he walked out the door.

There was little fuss and little confrontation - this time. But the argument over whether animals should be used in research is a complicated, heated and polarizing one, with active animal-rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doing undercover investigations and often using aggressive and sensational protests.

Budkie seems to try quieter tactics, requesting public documents from such state universities as the University of California, Davis, through the Freedom of Information Act and other public-records requests. He has researched and complained about research methods and conditions at research primate centers across the country.

Still, he has been involved in public demonstrations and targeted rhetoric, including the primatologist society's conference in 2004. In 1996, SAEN targeted a psychology professor at the UNC Chapel Hill who studied drug addiction using squirrel monkeys. In some research, she used electric shock, according to the Chapel Hill Herald.

Some of the scientific community has been moving away from animal testing. The U.S. Research Council issued a report last week that suggested scientific advances could lead to a reduced need for animal testing of the toxicity of chemicals. But the report also said that traditional animal testing would need to continue for the near future in conjunction with nonanimal research because nonanimal methods had yet to give scientists information that they get from an animal.

SAEN would like to end all animal testing.

Organizers of the primatologists' conference said they hoped that Budkie wouldn't show up, but when he did, they didn't seem surprised. "Sometimes they show up at these meetings and sometimes they don't," said David Friedman, the deputy associate dean for research at WFU. "What (Budkie) is best at is getting publicity and harassing individuals. That's the only reason he came."

Budkie said that the conference needs the point of view of the animal-rights community.

But many scientists who say they are convinced that animals are useful research tools don't think the conference was the place.

"We are a scientific society. Michael Budkie is not a scientist," said John Capitanio, a researcher from UC, Davis, and the former president of the society. "There isn't evidence that he has an interest in the science of primates.

"I will never be convinced that animal research is not valuable, and I believe that as strongly as he believes against it."

■ Laura Giovanelli can be reached at 727-7302 or at [email protected].


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