Animal research is seldom in the news, even during Covid-19 vaccine development. Why? Animal research is too expensive and sensitive to risk activists displaying dismembered macaques on YouTube – security is extreme when monkeys are involved.
That is why many were taken aback when the university/government/pharma research complex admitted a current shortage of monkeys exported from China that stemmed from a Covid-timed ban on the sale of wild animals. The ban “turned a measure to prevent future outbreaks into a new obstacle in the fight against the pandemic” observed the Globe and Mail. Angry Internet posters in China essentially agreed saying make up your mind, United States. Should China shut down our wet wildlife markets or sell you wild monkeys for your vaccines?
The corresponding release of the number of monkeys used in lab research is unusual. Who knew that China produces roughly 70,000 monkeys for laboratories a year (during non-Covid times) and that over 60 percent of 33,818 primates used in U.S. research in 2019, mostly cynomolgus macaques, came from China?
Also, who knew that the use of monkeys in U.S. research actually increased by 20 percent between 2015 and 2017, despite greater awareness of ethical issues sparked by NIH chimp experiment restrictions in 2011? And before Covid issues arose?
Link Between Wet Wildlife Markets and Human Viruses
The link between wet wildlife markets and viruses that jump from animals to humans has never been in doubt. According to the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS):
“The strongest evidence of the virus’s origin points to a section of the Huanan open-air market where more than 75 species of stressed wildlife were stacked in wire cages and slaughtered on-site for buyers. ‘You almost couldn’t design a more perfect setting for the transmission of disease,’ says Teresa Telecky, HSI vice president for wildlife. ‘Animals are crowded together and you have all these fluids-blood, saliva, feces.’
After the government closed the market, tests revealed the virus in the wildlife section. Two-thirds of the 41 earliest identified cases had direct ties to that part of the market. Most of the rest had indirect ties (for example, a woman married to a man who worked there). Scientists are searching for the ‘intermediate host’ mammal that carried the virus from bats to Wuhan. In 2002, the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic began when civets infected with a closely related bat coronavirus brought it to a wildlife market in South China.”
“Nothing to Hide – Let Us Inside” – Why Animal Researchers Hate Exposure
There is probably no industry more afraid of transparency than animal research. Ever since People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Alex Pacheco exposed treatment of the Silver Spring monkeys in 1981, animal researchers have been reduced to uttering “it’s not how it looks” or “let us explain” when unwanted images surface and threaten their careers. When a group called Progress for Science dared to question taxpayer-funded primate research conducted at UCLA in 2014, an angry mob of as many as 40 UCLA researchers and their supporters yelled obscenities and had to be restrained by police.
Monkey research is especially well hidden. Descriptions by PETA of what awaits monkeys in the lab are found here. Outrage from the public and animal lovers over exposed monkey research has convinced most major air carriers to refuse the sad, animal cargo.
Wildlife Markets or Animal Labs?
Many are rightly appalled at the wildlife market conditions in which monkeys are traded, kept and slaughtered – not to mention other primates, wolves, foxes, civet cats, birds and more. Yet, say animal rights activists, is shipping those same monkeys to “wet wildlife” labs any better? And is it necessary?
In the rush for a Covid vaccine some industry leaders say – maybe not.
“I don’t think proving this [a Covid vaccine] in an animal model is on the critical path to getting this to a clinical trial,” said Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CEO according to STAT. Still, the clinically-proven Moderna vaccine is 94.1% effective based on evidence from those trials reported the CDC.