White Coat Waste Project says National Center for Toxicological Research ended monkey studies, but FDA indicates they might resume “in the future based on agency needs”
JEFFERSON, Arkansas––The White Coat Waste Project on both August 30 and September 18, 2023 declared victory in shutting down nicotine addiction experiments at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Jefferson, Arkansas, 20 miles north of Pine Bluff.
Finding verification that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has in fact ended such experiments, however, eluded Arkansas Democrat Gazette reporter Bill Bowden when he investigated the veracity of the White Coat Waste Project claim.
“The National Center for Toxicological Research is currently renovating its “nonhuman-primate facility,” according to the FDA, Bowden found.
“A natural break” in unnatural studies
“The renovation coincided with a natural break in studies being conducted at this facility,” Bowden continued on August 30, 2023.
That was the same day that White Coat Waste Project campaign assistant Avery Kron told ANIMALS 24-7 in a media release that “The Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that its biggest primate lab has completely shut down ALL monkey tests and its breeding program!”
Reported Bowden, “Those studies ended in December 2022, according to an email from Veronika Pfaeffle,” currently an FDA spokesperson and a spokesperson for various federal agencies since 2007.
“The remaining nonhuman primates were rehomed,” Pfaeffle told Bowden. “Therefore the National Center for Toxicological Research does not currently house nonhuman primates onsite due to the renovation of the facility. However,” Pfaeffle added, “the National Center for Toxicological Research may conduct nonhuman primate studies in the future based on agency needs.”
Confirmed FDA commissioner’s office Freedom of Information Act officer Meredith J. Schlaifer in an email to Bowden, “The National Center for Toxicological Research does not currently have a non-human primate program. It was retired in December 2022.”
That leaves two questions open: is the National Center for Toxicological Research really out of the monkey business forever and ever, and if it is, why?
The laboratory site in Jefferson, Arkansas, has been renovated, repurposed, and returned to use in conducting animal experiments at least once before.
What is the White Coat Waste Project?
The White Coat Waste Project, Bowden summarized, “is a Washington, D.C.-based organization,” founded in 2013 by former Republican strategist Anthony Bellotti, “that began a campaign in 2016 to stop primate testing at FDA labs, including the one in Arkansas, which is the only FDA center located outside the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.”
According to Bellotti, “When the White Coat Waste Project first launched our investigations, grassroots campaign, and lobbying effort in 2016, the FDA’s primate experimentation was rapidly on the rise, with 381 monkeys abused at its labs each year. In 2022, it was just 141, and we closed down its single biggest offender entirely.
FDA switching to alternatives?
“For years,” said Bellotti in a media statement, “we’ve exposed how the FDA locked baby primates alone in tiny cages, forcibly addicted them to nicotine, amphetamines, and Ritalin, and tore newborns from their traumatized mothers, and killed them before they were a week old.
“Now,” Bellotti continued, “the FDA says that its largest primate testing lab was retired, that it’s switching to alternatives, and that it ‘shares the nation’s interest in reducing the need for non-human primates in FDA intramural research.’
“The White Coat Waste Project,” Bellotti added, “is proud to be the only organization that has successfully shut down government primate labs—or any monkey tests in the United States—in nearly a decade.”
Summarized Bowden, “In 2016, the Arkansas lab had 207 monkeys, according to the White Coat Waste Project. The number increased to 221 in 2017, but fell steadily every year after that. Last year, the Arkansas lab had a total of 60 monkeys, 35 of whom were used in painful testing, according to the project.
“Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stopped nicotine addiction research on monkeys at the Arkansas lab in 2018. His decision came after he received a letter from famed primate researcher Jane Goodall, who was brought into the loop by the White Coat Waste Project.”
Goodall did not actually mention the National Center for Toxicological Research in her letter, but pronounced herself “disturbed––and quite honestly shocked––to learn that the U.S. FDA is still, in 2017, performing cruel and unnecessary nicotine addiction experiments on monkeys.”
“To continue performing nicotine experiments on monkeys is shameful”
Goodall, reported Bowden, “wrote that devices were placed in young squirrel monkeys to deliver nicotine directly into their bloodstreams. Then the monkeys were put in restraint devices and trained to press levers to receive doses of nicotine. This apparently enables them to determine at what point the monkeys become addicted.”
Similar nicotine experiments on monkeys, and a variety of other species, appear to have been performed first at the University of Georgia in 1958, beginning 87 years after tobacco addiction experiments on humans were first reported from France in 1871.
The cumulative scientific data base on nicotine effects on primates of all sorts is accordingly now 152 years deep and counting.
“To continue performing nicotine experiments on monkeys when the results of smoking are well-known in humans––whose smoking habits can be studied directly––is shameful,” Goodall wrote.
25% of monkey cohort “died unexpectedly”
White Coat Waste Project senior vice president of advocacy and public policy Justin Goodman told Bowden that 20 monkeys died at the National Center for Toxicological Research laboratory in Jefferson, Arkansas from 2015 through 2019.
“Goodman said 15 of the 20 monkeys were ‘intentionally killed,’” Bowden wrote. “Seven newborns were killed for experiments. eight other monkeys were killed because of poor health or “self-injurious behavior.”
Five monkeys, including four squirrel monkeys and one rhesus macaque, died “unexpectedly,” Goodman told Bowden.
Two dozen monkeys sent to Jungle Friends
Associated Press and CNN reported that “After the nicotine program was stopped at the National Center for Toxicological Research, over two dozen squirrel monkeys were moved from the Arkansas lab to Jungle Friends Primate Sanctuary near Gainesville, Florida,” Bowden summarized.
“But some monkeys remained at the Arkansas lab and were used in other testing, according to the White Coat Waste Project.”
The National Center for Toxicological Research, one of the oldest animal research facilities still in use as of 2023, “was once part of the U.S. Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal,” Bowden mentioned, and was reportedly used for investigations of biological pathogens chemical warfare agents.
Then-U.S. president Richard Nixon stopped those experiments in 1969, by executive order. The laboratory was transferred to the FDA and reopened in January 1971.
Reason for restraint in celebration
Cassandra MacDonald, a frequent writer for politically far-right media, was uninclined to ask as many questions of the White Coat Waste Project claims as Bowden, and ANIMALS 24-7, for that matter.
“Big animal rights groups like PETA are taking donors’ money for expensive ad buys, lavish galas, and endless campaigns with empty promises,” MacDonald charged, “but the government watchdog White Coat Waste Project has actually been stopping the government from torturing dogs, monkeys, and other animals in testing labs with billions of taxpayers’ money.”
Which would be nice if true, but in view of both the history of the National Center for Toxicological Research facilities in Jefferson, Arkansas, and FDA spokesperson Pfaeffle’s qualifying statement that “The National Center for Toxicological Research may conduct nonhuman-primate studies in the future based on agency needs,” there is reason for restraint in celebration.
PETA watching SEC watching Inotiv
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] meanwhile is keeping a wary eye on a Securities & Exchange Commission investigation of “possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act” by the laboratory animal supply company Inotiv in connection with monkey imports from Southeast Asia.
Reported Richard Vanderford for the Wall Street Journal on August 15, 2023, “In November 2022, U.S. prosecutors in Florida charged employees of Inotiv suppliers with conspiracy and smuggling of endangered long-tailed macaques from Cambodia.”
“Permits falsely showed monkeys were bred in captivity”
Now, Vanderford wrote, the Securities & Exchange Commission “has sent Inotiv a request for documents and information relating to the company’s and several subsidiaries’ importation of ‘non-human primates’ from Asia,” specifically wild-caught long-tailed macaques.
Explained Vanderford, “The endangered species is protected under an international treaty [the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species] and can be imported only with special permits. To make up for a shortage of the monkeys at breeding facilities, the co-conspirators allegedly acquired macaques through the black market.
“Cambodian government officials allegedly received payments to issue permits that falsely showed the monkeys were bred in captivity, when some were captured from national parks and protected areas,” Vanderford summarized.
Alleged conspiracy ran for more than four years
“The criminal conspiracy ran from at least December 2017 to January 2022, the Florida prosecutors said. The case is pending,” Vanderford added.
Inotiv claims to have “stopped importing non-human primates from Cambodia,” Vanderford noted, but “is, however, selling those animals now in the U.S.”
“Plainly,” assessed Keith Brown of PETA, “the Securities & Exchange Commission wants to know if Inotiv bribed foreign officials to keep monkeys flowing to laboratories and its profits growing, or if it violated related recordkeeping or other controls.
Charles River under scrutiny too
“Those questions are likely similar to those that the agency is asking in the case of Charles River, which reported that it had received an Securities & Exchange Commission inquiry just a week before Inotiv did.
“This comes after the U.S. Department of Justice issued subpoenas to Inotiv and Charles River in a probe into a monkey-smuggling operation,” Brown noted.
“Charles River is also in trouble with its own shareholders,” Brown wrote, “after a third of shares voted were in favor of a proposal submitted by PETA asking the monkey dealer to disclose the origin of all nonhuman primates it had imported. This is an extraordinarily high number of votes for a proposal brought by shareholder activists.
“Meanwhile, the 1,269 endangered long-tailed macaques Charles River allegedly illegally brought to the U.S. from Cambodia months ago apparently continue to languish in the company’s barren steel cages,” Brown finished, “even though PETA stands ready to facilitate their transfer to a sanctuary.”
Monkey-masked PETA staff and supporters on July 21, 2023 staged a demonstration outside the offices of the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington D.C., demanding that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland order the release to sanctuaries of the long-tailed macaques who were allegedly illegally from Cambodia, but to no avail, and surprisingly little media coverage, considering how few people in monkey masks normally parade outside government buildings.