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Media Coverage

UW-Madison Alters Policies on Primate Cruelty in Research

The Primate Research Center must be more precise in reporting research done on monkeys.
Media Credit: Alex Balistreri/Cardinal File Photo
The Primate Research Center must be more precise in reporting research done on monkeys.


The University of Wisconsin Primate Research Center will be more precise in reporting pain and distress experiments this year as researchers adhere to more rigid clarifications regarding the definition of distress, said Chris Coe, a graduate professor at the Primate Research Center.

Animal research laboratories have faced increasing pressure from animal-rights activist groups for several years to implement stricter reporting guidelines, but ambiguous reporting categories remain intact. Most recently, Stop Animal Exploitation Now filed a complaint Oct. 24 with the United States Department of Agriculture against UW-Madison Primate Research Center, claiming distress and primate deaths are inaccurately reported.

Pain and distress categories, as regulated by the USDA, range from category C, where animals experience no pain or distress, to category E, where animals endure pain and distress without drug relief. The USDA defines pain as more than momentary pain or discomfort.

Since distress varies from animal to animal and is open to individual interpretation, some researchers might underreport psychological distress in their subjects.

"Most [nationwide] researchers underreport distress categories because there is no good definition of distress," Coe said.

Additionally, Coe said he believes the USDA should create a separate category that differentiates between pain and distress to help alleviate ambiguity and facilitate accurate reporting.

Mary Beth Sweetland, senior vice president and director of research and investigation for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, also advocates a separate category for pain and distress and said she believes current regulations are unscientific.

"USDA categories are woefully inadequate and you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand that these categories are nonsense," Sweetland said. "Whoever is doing the experiment is arbitrarily designating pain and distress categories."

Coe and Sweetland disagree regarding the definition of distress. According to Sweetland, the essence of laboratory life and living in captivity induces stress. Coe's definition requires an element of time and pathology.

"Distress is not every momentary disturbance, but enough disturbance to cause prolonged physical change, typically in a sense of pathological change," Coe said.

Joseph W. Kemnitz, director of the Wisconsin Primate Research Center, said he does not believe a more rigid clarification of distress will lead to more category E classifications but might lead to more informed and comprehensive data.

He also said investigators are more involved than years passed when differentiating between pain and distress but admitted the difficulty of defining distress in universal terms.

"Distress is quite subjective," Kemnitz said. "You have to look at the animals to make a judgment and we are requiring every investigator who uses animals to do that."

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