Traumatization of Baby Monkeys|in Wisconsin Inspires Records Challenge

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      MADISON, Wis. (CN) – Activists unhappy with the renewal of research that subjects baby monkeys to “psychological torment” have filed suit for a school’s records.
     The Animal Legal Defense Fund has its eye on the minutes of a meeting in which a committee of the University of Wisconsin approved the maternal-deprivation studies on infant rhesus macaques.
     The research protocol at issue “calls for twenty infant rhesus macaques to be removed from their mothers at birth, housed alone in an incubator with a stuffed ‘surrogate’ for three to six weeks, and then paired with another unfamiliar young monkey, so that the babies can ‘rear’ one another,” the Oct. 14 complaint states.
     Researchers then “systematically traumatize[]” the macaques “through tests featuring menacing human ‘intruders’ and live snakes,” according to the complaint.
     The baby monkeys also face repeated “blood and cerebrospinal fluid draws, skin-punch biopsies, and brain scans,” the complaint states.
     ALDF says researchers will kill the 40 macaques before they are 18 months old, and then “dissect their brains, looking for neurophysiological markers of anxiety and depression.”
     Such research, proposed by the chair of the University of Wisconsin’s psychiatry department in 2011, allegedly marks the first of its kind in over 30 years.
     ALDF says the school’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approved the proposal “over the serious objection of several committee members.”
     The state university’s Board of Regents complied with a request for the minutes of that committee’s lengthy meeting on the issue, but it allegedly omitted handwritten notes. These minutes “curtly characterize hours of internal debate as ‘discussion ensued’ or ‘extensive discussion ensued,'” according to the complaint.
     Insisting that committee staffers took “copious hand-written notes that provide the basis for the minutes,” ALDF wants a writ of mandamus and punitive damages in Dane County Circuit Court.
     Richard Lane, the records custodian for the school’s Research Animal Resource Center, allegedly said such notes are not subject to Wisconsin open records laws, but ALDF says Lane erroneously cited a portion of the statute that exempts notes for personal use.
     “IACUC staff and members’ handwritten notes are written materials created during official IACUC meetings, by members carrying out their statutory and institutional duties under the AWA,” the complaint states. “The handwritten notes were not generated for ‘personal’ use as that term is traditionally understood; nor were they generated in the name of a supervisor.”     
     The university has refused to comment on the lawsuit’s specifics.
     “UW-Madison takes its responsibilities under Wisconsin’s open records laws seriously,” school science writer Chris Barncard said in an email. “Given that the matter is in litigation, we are unable to comment further.”
     California-based ALDF notes that the purpose of maternal-deprivation studies is to induce anxiety and depression.
     In addition to violating ALDF’s rights under the Public Records Law, the “refusal to provide the requested records has frustrated the public interest by withholding and delaying information about a matter of great public concern and controversy: taxpayer-funded maternal deprivation studies conducted on infant primates,” according to the complaint.
     An online petition opposing the research has more than 343,000 signatures, and the Humane Society of the United States posted a blog criticizing the university.
     A member of the Dane County Board of Supervisors introduced a resolution to terminate the experiments, but the board’s executive committee postponed that resolution indefinitely last month, its website shows.
     ALDF is represented in its lawsuit by local attorney Jeff Olson and staff attorney Jessica Blome.