Forcing monkeys to play video games is not valid science

On March 29, international animal welfare group the Animal Justice Project and the Taxpayers Protection Alliance released the second part of a report exposing taxpayer-funded recreational drug experiments.

This report revealed a horrifying description of one of UC Berkeley’s animal experiments to “coerce dehydrated monkeys into playing video games.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse, which has given the university more than $4.7 million over the past 10 years for various recreational drug addiction experiments, funded this cruelty.

The report describes how macaque monkeys were first deprived of water so that they would be more motivated to perform tasks, had electrodes implanted into their brains, were then restrained in specially designed primate chairs and forced to play games on a video monitor for juice “rewards.”

Ten experiments from prestigious institutions were outlined in this special report and cost the taxpayer tens of millions, experiments that forced squirrel monkeys to become addicted to heroin and cocaine, that inject rats with designer drugs such as bath salts, flakka and methamphetamine, that burn mice on hot plates after pumping them with nicotine and that subject rats who were injected with meth to electric shocks.

President Richard Nixon declared a “war on drugs” in 1971, and since then, draconian measures have been put in place resulting in thousands of people, mainly young people of color, being incarcerated for nonviolent drug crimes. President Barack Obama recently announced a new initiative to combat the soaring rates of heroin and prescription drug addiction. Arguably, the “war on drugs” has failed. How have these animal experiments contributed to finding the solution? If these experiments have been carried out for five,10, 20 years, as the report suggests, then they have failed to contribute significantly to any real solution to an increasing problem.

Even if in some laboratory somewhere a researcher found the “cure” for drug addiction and helped addicts get off drugs, would it cure what got them there in the first place? Would they soon after sink back into addiction when their lives had not changed? Heroin-related overdoses have increased a staggering 63 percent since 2002. We are looking for the cure and no one is asking why. You can’t ask a monkey or a mouse why they take a drug because they don’t.

There seems to be a dichotomy in America where drug abuse is concerned. We don’t like solving the addicts’ issues such as paying for education, training for employment, providing jobs by keeping businesses in the United States or supporting people through difficult times whether it be medical issues or unemployment, but we don’t mind giving researchers millions of taxpayers’ dollars to inject animals with recreational drugs to find some miracle cure or get some glimmer into why addicts take drugs.

Where animals are concerned we have conveniently dismissed their lives as being of no consequence. We can do what we want, when we want to them with little regard for their inalienable right to life. The majority of animals used in these experiments are rats and mice who are not even covered under the Animal Welfare Act. There is no one looking out for them. There is no way of knowing how many rats and mice are used as the researchers do not have to account for them. Their lives and bodies are used to further careers, write papers, indulge whims and keep the money rolling in.

This horrendous exploitation of animals and people’s trust in the scientific community that leads the general public to believe that they are working hard to find cures to diseases that affect humanity needs to be terminated. UC Berkeley, as a leading educational facility, must end these barbaric practices and make a significant move toward replacing the animal model with new technology.

This is not the first time that UC Berkeley has come under fire for its treatment of animals used in its labs. In the early 2000s, UC Berkeley had to pay out $90,000 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, but the problems have persisted. Another violation of the Animal Welfare Act occurred in 2008-09 when a macaque monkey was kept in a brain study after showing signs of a chronic and painful condition. In 2011, UC Berkeley was fined again for allowing voles to die of thirst. Universities’ spokespeople always respond with placations of how they strictly adhere to the USDA Animal Welfare guidelines, but how do you do that when animals such as mice and rats are not covered by these rules? It is way past time that prestigious universities such as UC Berkeley address this issue seriously and meaningfully. Engage in actively reducing the number of animals used in experiments — seek federal funding for research based around new technologies that do not require animals to suffer and die in their hands.

Kitty Jones is an animal rights advocate.

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