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Senate Panel Approves Bill Banning Research on Great Apes

July 27, 2012—The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works July 25 amended and approved, by voice vote, legislation that would ban “invasive” research on chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans, or gibbons.

The Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (S. 810)—introduced in previous Congresses and reintroduced April 13, 2011, by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)—prohibits any research that “may cause death, injury, pain, distress, fear, or trauma” to the animal, including drug testing, restraining, tranquilizing, anesthetizing, isolation, social deprivation, and other activities. The bill also calls for permanent retirement of all great apes owned by the federal government for research and allows the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to direct funding collected from civil penalties under the measure ($10,000 a day for each violation) to construct, renovate, and operate sanctuaries.

During the markup, the committee adopted an amendment offered by Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), permitting temporary exceptions to the ban if a “Great Ape Task Force,” appointed by the Secretary of HHS, certifies—after a lengthy series of consultations and public comment periods—that such an exemption is warranted.

But Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the committee’s ranking member, objected that the bill “goes too far,” and does not align with Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations regarding the use of chimpanzees in research, released Dec. 15, 2011, and embraced by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the same day [see Washington Highlights, Dec. 16, 2011].

Pointing to concerns from the research community that the bill would hamper efforts by medical researchers to respond rapidly to an emerging disease in a public health emergency, Sen. Inhofe quoted that the IOM report “does not endorse an outright ban on chimpanzee research.” He continued that the report describes “how disruptive an immediate, outright ban would be, affecting animal care and potentially causing unacceptable losses to public health,” and how “chimpanzees may prove uniquely important in unraveling the mystery of diseases that are unknown today.”

Sen. Inhofe voted against the bill and asked that the record reflect opposition from two Republican committee members, Senators Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) and Mike Johanns (Neb.).

A House companion bill, H.R. 1513, awaits consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee [see Washington Highlights, April 22, 2011].


Tannaz Rasouli
Sr. Director, Public Policy & Strategic Outreach
Telephone: 202-828-0525


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