Highly graphic video of primate experiments at a German laboratory operating under the umbrella of the Max Planck Society, whose offspring include Palm Beach County's Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience, has scandalized Europe.
Recorded by undercover operatives from the U.K. and German animal rights groups and first broadcast on German television September 10, the images of bloodied, frightened monkeys under extreme, high-tech restraint and with medical probes inserted in their living skulls are strong viewing.
The response in Europe has included calls for new, tougher regulation of research laboratories. Celebrity support of the animal-rights activists has come from comedian Ricky Gervais and actor Russell Crowe.
There are fierce advocates on both sides of the debate over the use of laboratory animals for scientific experiment. The animals' numbers are estimated to run into the tens of millions annually, worldwide, most of them put to death following their research use. Radical animal rights groups have attacked research facilities and freed four-footed inmates; patient advocacy groups are similarly outraged, claiming that restrictions on the use of lab animals block medical progress.
The Planck Society's response to the uproar over the experiments has been mixed. An initial statement decried the video footage as:
selected with the sole purpose of discrediting animal testing. Practically none of the footage shows the normal conditions at the Institute's animal-holding facility. The sequences are strung together in a way that makes meaningful arrangement in the actual context in which they were produced impossible, or in some cases even deliberately suggest a completely different context.
The society's follow-up remarks were more cautious:
We want to emphasize once again that we take these allegations very seriously indeed. The Institute is investigating all points raised. To this end, it must comprehensively view records and documents. In addition, the Max Planck Society has commissioned an external expert to carry out an on-site inspection. The results of this investigation are expected to be available on Thursday. Only then can the Max Planck Society make a further announcement and decide how to proceed further. It is our highest priority to completely clarify all allegations that were made. The value of primate research for society must not be comprised.
Locally, the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (which has itself, as recently as 2012, been cited for animal care violations but which last month received a clean bill of health from federal regulators) was careful to distance itself from the German scandal. In a news release yesterday, institute representatives noted that:
The Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI) operates independently of the German-based Max Planck Society and decisions and protocols for the Florida-based institute are made and developed locally. MPFI is committed to the humane treatment of animals in the research that we conduct. Although a large part of basic research involves animal-‐free testing methods, some questions can only be answered with the help of animal research. MPFI utilizes only small vertebrates, like mice, to conduct certain aspects of its research when necessary.
Here is the video -- as produced by the more than 100-year-old British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the German animal welfare group Soko TierSchutz -- depicting activity at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, outside Stuttgart:
UPDATE: Following a review of conditions at the lab in question, the Max Planck Society on September 18 stated that there are "no indications that the animals were neglected."
At the same time, the Society announced plans for enhanced veterinary care at the lab and "until such time as these measures have been implemented, the Institute will make no further applications for the approval of experiments involving primates."
The Society's announcement is here.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.