Large numbers of primates in UK laboratories are being subjected to “cruel and distressing experiments” that are “frivolous”, a leading animal rights organisation has said.
Despite a law that is meant to give special protection to primates, “unnecessary and unjustifiable” tests are still being carried out, according to Cruelty Free International.
A review of experiments conducted on monkeys found that they are still being subjected to “invasive and harmful experiments” contrary to the protection afforded to them under European Union and UK legislation.
In addition to this, primates are being used despite alternatives that would be more useful for helping human beings, the group said.
Cruelty Free International's report, called ‘The use of non-human primates in experiments in the UK – unnecessary and unjustifiable’, highlights the scale and impact of primate research in the UK.
Dr Katy Taylor, director of science at Cruelty Free International, said: “Our Report shows that it is still far too easy for these highly intelligent and social animals to be used in extremely cruel and distressing experiments that are wasteful and even frivolous in their design.
“Far from helping produce cures for debilitating human diseases, most of the experiments appear to have minimal benefits for humans and give the impression of having more to do with defending the continued use of primates or satisfying the curiosity of researchers than advancing medical science.”
Dr Taylor said that the alternative methods are available to using primates and other animals such as ethical studies in human volunteers and innovative experiments involving human tissues and cells.
The UK bans the use of Great Apes in research, but scientists are allowed to experiment on other non-human primates, such as macaques and marmosets.
The UK is the third largest user of primates in the EU, using more than 2,000 animals each year, the animal protection, formerly the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said.
Most research continues largely in secrecy in universities, hospitals, contract testing facilities and even government laboratories across the UK, says Cruelty Free International.
According to the animal rights group, recent data obtained from 13 large pharmaceutical companies for drug approvals made between 2007 and 2011, found that 95% of drugs fail in human trials because they are not safe or do not work, even though they will have ‘passed’ tests involving non-human primates.
Most of the tests were to assess the long-term toxicity of drugs and their results were generally not published, Cruelty Free International said.
Some of the effects of the tests on the primates allegedly included vomiting, internal bleeding, respiratory distress, fever, weight loss, lethargy, skin problems, organ failure and death.
Primates are used in medical research including HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, neurological disorders as well as brain and behaviour experiments.
The animals are also used in defence research, whereby primates are infected with deadly diseases as part of a ‘defence’ strategy against bio-terrorist attacks, it is alleged.
Primates used in such research undergo "severe suffering" as some of them may have parts of their brain and nervous system surgically destroyed in order to artificially ‘create’ paralysis and depression, the charity said.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has one of the most comprehensive animal welfare systems in the world to ensure animal testing is carried out humanely and only when necessary.
“Our regulatory system rightly grants non-human primates special protection, and they currently account for less than 0.1% of all licensed animal procedures. However, their highly regulated use has been of great importance in major medical advances such as life-support systems for premature babies and deep-brain stimulation to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
“We are working with the scientific community and with international regulators to promote alternative measures that replace, reduce and refine the use of animals in research and testing.”