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Primates in Research

Every year, tens of thousands of nonhuman primates are used in laboratory research around the world. There are ethical objections as well as strong scientific arguments against their use in research.

Ending Primate Research

Nonhuman primates are used in research because of their similarities to humans — but it is precisely these similarities that make their suffering and use so unjustifiable. They are highly intelligent and social animals with complex behavioural and psychological needs. The main fields of research in which primates are used can be categorised into three areas: medical research, toxicology and fundamental (curiosity-driven) research.

The BUAV has carried out a number of high profile investigations into the use of primates in research, including the deliberate infliction of brain damage on marmosets at the University of Cambridge in an effort to mimic human diseases and the use of primates in toxicity testing at contract testing laboratory Covance in Germany. Both investigations received widespread international media and political attention, including in-depth coverage on the BBC flagship political programme, Newsnight.

The BUAV subsequently launched a legal challenge against the UK government. We have also produced well researched scientific reports, such as the Zero-Option and Next of Kin (with a foreword by Dr Jane Goodall) calling for an end to the use of primates in research, questioning the scientific validity of their use and offering viable alternatives.

Primates in Research – the Case Against

Nonhuman primates share many of the important characteristics of humans. They are intelligent and highly evolved animals with complex behavioural and social needs. They are also wild animals and do not adjust well to a captive environment.

Primates are often housed on their own in small, barren metal cages for many years with no meaningful environmental enrichment. With little opportunity for mental stimulation and physical exercise, these animals frequently develop abnormal and self-destructive behaviours that may include pacing, rocking, swaying, bar biting, and self-mutilation.

In addition to ethical objections, there are also strong scientific arguments against the use of primates in research. Because of biological differences between humans and other primates, as well as the unnatural conditions in which the primates must live, the results of such research cannot be safely or reliably extrapolated to humans. Although it is true that the development of new treatments almost always involves animals, the key question is whether, scientifically, their use is necessary or beneficial. Just because primates are currently used in an area of research is not proof of its necessity. Primate research has been singularly unsuccessful in developing treatments for human illnesses. Read more about the scientific unreliability of primate research.

Many of the barriers to eradicating primate use are not scientific, but cultural, economic and political. These must be strongly challenged and a fundamental shift in attitude encouraged.

To find out more about BUAV’s campaign to end the use of primates in research, go to:

Watch 'The Time is Now' video
BUAV Primate Briefing (PDF)
Next of Kin: A BUAV report (PDF)
Watch 'Next of Kin' video