Feds spend up to $14.5 billion annually on animal testing

Michael Bastasch | Energy Editor

Would you be surprised to learn that the biggest funder of animal testing in the country is the federal government?

The government spends as much as $14.5 billion per year on animal experimentation, with some projects siphoning off taxpayer dollars for decades and resulting in the cruel treatment of an unknown number of animals.

According to an analysis of government data, the National Institutes of Health spends between $12 billion and nearly $14.5 billion on animal testing every year. According to NIH documents, about 47 percent of research grants have an animal research-based component. This number has been fairly stable over the last decade.

“$14.5 billion could provide a lot of tax relief for Americans. It could help pay down national debt or help prevent a shutdown,” says Anthony Bellotti, founder and executive director of the watchdog group, White Coat Waste Project. “Instead, it’s paying for experiments in which small dogs are forced to run on treadmills until they have heart attacks at schools like Wayne State University, and to study the effects of crystal meth on monkeys at UCLA. How can we justify government waste like this?”

The controversial nature of government-backed animal testing has actually created an unlikely coalition of fiscal conservatives and animals rights activists who usually don’t share common ground. Both sides argue that NIH funding for animal testing should be cut.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals urged House Speaker John Boehner to “expand the planned 7.8 percent cuts to the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) budget by cutting all funding for studies involving animals.”

PETA also argues that NIH grants go towards experiments that “involve cruel and expensive experiments on animals that will not save human lives.”

In the name of science?

One professor at the Oregon Health and Science University got $9.5 million in grants in the last few years to test the effects of obesity and diabetes on monkeys. Researchers would fatten up pregnant monkeys to see if their offspring to test for health problems and anxiety problems, like if the baby monkeys were afraid of a Mr. Potato Head doll. PETA noted that the baby monkeys were also taken out of the womb, killed and had their brains dissected.

Another professor with the University of Minnesota has been given $3.6 million over the past decade on research that involved forcing monkeys to do drugs like PCP, METH, heroin and cocaine to study their behavior. The study also looked at how using these drugs affected female monkeys’ menstrual cycles.

“At the University of Minnesota, Professor Marilyn Carroll has been funded for nearly 30 years by taxpayers,” Bolletti said. “She tests illegal recreational street drugs on monkeys by forcibly addicting them to heroin, Crystal Meth, and Angel Dust and then painfully withdrawing them. When she first got on the dole, the #1 album in America was Michael Jackson’s Thriller and #1 movie in America was Return of the Jedi.”

For more than 20 years, an Ohio State University professor got funds from the NIH to conduct research that included forcing small dogs to run on treadmills to induce heart attacks. Taxpayers put up $1.9 million for these experiments.

In another NIH-funded experiment, University of Wisconsin researchers were given funds to cut into the brains of cats, drill holes in their skulls, place wire coils in their eyes, deafening them and starving them to death. The researchers didn’t even justify the cat deafening based on its benefits to humans, instead saying that the NIH funds were meant to “keep up a productive publication record that ensures our constant funding.”

“As a physician and expert in human brain research,” writes Dr. Lawrence Hansen, professor at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, “I can tell you that research to better understand how the brain processes sound can be conducted ethically on human volunteers using sophisticated brain imaging and recording techniques.”

“Funding the UW-Madison’s violent and unnecessary experiments on cats means $3 million less is being spent on research that can actually improve human health and well-being,” Hansen added.

What’s the benefit?

Despite criticisms of using taxpayer dollars to fund animal testing, the NIH argues that testing on animals help scientists identify new ways of improving peoples’ health and lives.

“Through research involving both humans and animals, scientists identify new ways to treat illnesses, extend life, and improve health and well-being,” the NIH said in a statement. “New thinking about diseases and treatments must be evaluated very carefully so that benefits and risks from the proposed approach are clear. When necessary, new hypotheses are tested in animals first in order to gather sufficient evidence of these benefits and risks before considering possible use in humans.”

“Researchers often apply the results of their findings to the benefit of animals,” the NIH added. “For example, research on viruses has led to the development of the dog parvovirus vaccine and the cat leukemia vaccine. Surgical research has led to the development of dog heart valves and hip replacements. Research on reproduction has led to breeding programs for endangered species (like pandas and white tigers).”

The Institute’s Deputy Director for Extramural Research Dr. Sally Rockey said that in 2009, intramural laboratories used more than 1.3 million animals — about 20 different species — in research projects. Mice represented 81 percent of NIH intramural animal studies.

The NIH says that all animals used in taxpayer-funded research are protected by rules to ensure that researchers use the fewest amount possible and are committed to their welfare.

However, scientists and animal right activists argue that animal testing is not as beneficial for humans as NIH researchers argue.

“We have moved away from studying human disease in humans,” said former NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni in June. “We all drank the Kool-Aid on that one, me included. … The problem is that it hasn’t worked, and it’s time we stopped dancing around the problem. … We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”

“I made the case that the reality of experiments on animals is largely hidden from the public and that many would consider what routinely happens to cats, dogs and monkeys in labs to be torture,” Hanson wrote. “I explained that many current experiments on animals have a tenuous link to improving human health. I also offered that an oversight system in which animal experimenters are charged with reviewing and approving the work of other animal experimenters is seriously flawed.”

Earlier this year, the NIH announced that it would end the use of most chimpanzees in government research. The Institute announced it was retiring about 310 chimps form government research in the coming years and would keep 50 on retainer for crucial medical studies that can’t be done without them.

The move came two years after the National Institutes for Medicine said that it could no longer justify the use of chimps in invasive medicine.

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