The White Coat Waste Project (WCW), a nonprofit opposed to tax-funded animal testing, is suing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) following its failure to provide the group with records related to the department's experiments on primates.
WCW had submitted two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) records requests seeking videos, photographs, and animal welfare reports related to studies performed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is housed within HHS, on monkeys.
The experiments involved damaging the monkeys' brains with ibotenic acid before showing them pictures of faces alongside everyday objects, like fruit, or attempting to scare them with rubber spiders and snakes. The goal was to explore which parts of the brain are responsible for facial recognition and defense responses.
WCW filed two records requests with the NIH in June and September 2019. In both cases, according to WCW's lawsuit, staff at the NIH first attempted to negotiate the release of the requested records before they stopped responding to WCW emails altogether.
The group filed its lawsuit in December, claiming HHS had failed to comply with FOIA.
"There is a very troubling lack of transparency and accountability about how the NIH is spending its money," says Justin Goodman of WCW. "We're confident that this lawsuit will shed some light on how tax dollars are being spent so the public can judge for itself if it wants bureaucrats to give monkeys brain damage and show them pictures of fruit."
The NIH declined a request for comment, citing the pending litigation.
Goodman says that WCW obtained information about these experiments on primates from public records requests, grant applications, and published NIH studies. He claims the government has spent some $100 million on monkey experiments since the Carter administration.
Science reports that the NIH owns 7,000 monkeys, and has increased its use of these animals in research "involving pain and distress" by 50 percent since 2014.
The 2020 spending bill passed in December included a provision requiring the NIH to inform Congress about its efforts to find alternatives to primate testing.
"Taxpayers are sick and tired of the government's multimillion-dollar monkey business, like giving primates brain damage and then scaring them with rubber snakes and spiders," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R–Fla.), who helped sponsor that legislation, told the Washington Examiner, calling the NIH's monkey experiments "expensive, unnecessary, and inhumane."