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PETA Suing OHSU Over Monkey Experiment Videos

Rhesus macaques at Oregon Health and Science University's Oregon National Primate Research Center.
Dave Miller
Rhesus macaques at Oregon Health and Science University's Oregon National Primate Research Center.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed a lawsuit Wednesday against Oregon Health & Science University to obtain videos of experiments happening in the OHSU-run Oregon National Primate Research Center.

PETA is asking the court, under Oregon's public records law, to compel OHSU to release video footage of experiments involving macaques.

The experiment that PETA is seeking footage of involves lab workers scaring young monkeys by aggressively staring at them to measure their fear and anxiety, said Jeremy Beckham, a research associate in PETA's laboratory investigations department.

The full experiment involves feeding pregnant macaques various diets and then seeing if their offspring are more or less prone to anxiety.

"They would do things like have a so-called ‘human intruder test’ where someone would walk into a room where an 11-month old monkey was alone in a cage, walk up to their cage and stare at them in a really intimidating way — that’s a threatening posture to primates — and they would videotape to see how fearfully they reacted to this," Beckham said. "So we expect that the video footage is basically going to show experimenters at OHSU intentionally inflicting fear and terror in these young monkeys."

These experiments are detailed in a number of publicly available, peer- reviewed research articles, which is why Beckham said there is no reason for OHSU to withhold the footage. He said the university claims the footage may "reveal proprietary information or trade secrets."

Tamara Hargens-Bradley, associate director of strategic communications with OHSU, said the university is reviewing the court filing and has no comment at this time.

OHSU has been cited with 12 violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act since 2017.

"We need to have more transparency and accountability because obviously all is not well at OHSU," Beckham said. "I think it’s really outrageous that instead of taking accountability and acknowledging wrongdoing, OHSU is responding by circling the wagon and refusing to be transparent with the public about what they’re doing with over 4,000 monkeys that are held captive at the primate center."

PETA is suing two other research institutions to release experiment videos, Beckham said. 

"We have lawsuits against the University of California, Davis, against the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and now also against OHSU," he said. 

"There’s a growing pattern across the country of animal labs closing their doors and refusing to release any video. I think that they’ve seen the fact that a majority of Americans oppose the use of animals in experimentation," Beckham said. "They’re responding to that news by increasing their secrecy."

Beckham said the public deserves to know what's happening in OHSU's primate center.

"These are experiments that taxpayers have already paid for. They’re occurring at a public institution and we think the public has a right to see exactly how these monkeys are being used in this experiment," he said. "We think it’ll really shock the public conscience and may lead to the end of these experiments."

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.