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December 13th, 2006 Julie Sabatier | News Stories
 

Monkey Business

After eight years, OHSU finally releases records from its primate center.

     
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A BARRELFUL OF RECORDS is what In Defense of AnimalsŐ Matt Rossell must now sort through.
IMAGE: CHRISRYANPHOTO.COM
In Defense of Animals has its work cut out for it. The animal-rights organization got 113,000 pages of documents in 30 boxes Tuesday morning from the Oregon National Primate Research Center.

The physical transfer of those boxes dates back to 1998, when IDA first requested the records from Oregon Health & Science University, which runs the center. That prompted a protracted court battle over fees and redactions in the records. On Oct. 17, OHSU reached a settlement with IDA, in which OHSU agreed to provide documentation of animal care over seven years at the primate center in Beaverton, as well as pay $82,000 in lawyer fees incurred by IDA.

"The case law that was made in this case doesn't just benefit animal-rights activists," says IDA outreach coordinator Matt Rossell, who worked at the primate research center for two years and blew the whistle on alleged mismanagement of primate behavioral problems in 2000. "It benefits anyone who is going after any public documents of any kind."

The primate research center was later inspected by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act and given a clean bill of health, but Rossell claims the law is toothless when it comes to regulating the animals' psychological well-being. He expects to find evidence in the 113,000 pages handed over Tuesday that monkeys are suffering in the lab.

"These animals are complicated and intelligent and very socially complex, and when you throw them alone in a stainless-steel cage, they go crazy," Rossell says.

OHSU says the records tell a different story, including the fact that 91 percent of the animals live in group housing.

"[IDA] isn't a group with the most stellar record of telling the truth. I have a feeling that their claims will be very different than the reality, because that's what history has shown," says OHSU spokesman Jim Newman. "These records clearly show that these animals are very well cared for."

The primate research center, which gets about $11 million in federal grants annually, houses 4,200 primates in its 350-acre facility in Beaverton. Researchers at the center are working on an AIDS vaccine in addition to studying other infectious diseases, reproductive health, obesity and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The center fought to retain its right to redact the documents before releasing them to IDA, removing names of employees as well as companies that contract with ONPRC and specific drugs used in studies.

"If you look at animal-rights groups nationally, some have a history of harassing employees and companies that contract with research facilities like ours," Newman says.

Both sides say they're relieved to have reached a conclusion in a struggle that has stretched over eight years, though the contention between OHSU and IDA continued to the very end in a dispute over what form the records should take. IDA claims the group requested early on that the records be released in an electronic format rather than using reams of paper. OHSU says the original agreement was for a release of hand-redacted paper records.

Rossell says IDA will set up a workstation for the daunting task of scanning and reviewing all the documents, soliciting help from concerned volunteers. And both OHSU and IDA will be making at least some records available on their respective websites (ohsu.edu and idausa.org).

 
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