The White Coat Waste Project (WCWP), a bipartisan coalition that brings together animal rights activists and fiscal conservatives to put an end to wasteful, nontransparent, taxpayer-funded animal testing, is in the midst of a transparency battle with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in regard to an ongoing study in which monkeys are being addicted to nicotine to allegedly observe human teenagers’ smoking habits.
Because the only publicly available information about the “Aspects of Nicotine Self-Administration in a Nonhuman Primate” study is a mere paragraph on the FDA’s website, WCWP filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request back in December asking for related documents. In its response, however, the FDA supplied WCWP with a 64-page document containing redactions of the project’s cost and completely withheld other related documents — including veterinary records for the primates used, photographs and videos of the experiments, and adverse animal welfare event reports — without explanation.
“Taxpayers have a right to know how agencies are spending their money,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who has championed fighting government waste and is aware of WCWP’s mission, told Rare in a statement. “Transparency is the best way to ensure tax dollars are directed towards transformative research rather than being wasted on treadmills to nowhere.”
From the materials provided to WCWP and passed along exclusively to Rare, it’s clear that the FDA is conducting experiments to determine what nicotine dose in 1-year-old and 5-year-old monkeys is enough to addict them and to see how their brains respond. According to the FDA, addicting the monkeys to nicotine will provide data on which to base stricter regulations on nicotine levels in tobacco products. The experiments require 12 adolescent monkeys and 12 adult monkeys, who are forced to undergo surgeries to implant catheters in their bodies to deliver nicotine directly to their arteries. Afterwards, they are fitted with nylon vests, which they must wear constantly to keep the equipment implanted inside them secure. During the experimental sessions, the monkeys are confined in restraint chairs and are trained to press levers to receive nicotine infusions.
WCWP is concerned that the public being kept in the dark about what many may find to be an inhumane and disturbing study and about how much of their taxes are being used to fund it. They’re aiming to combat this issue in two ways. Next week, they plan to file a challenge to the FDA’s response to their FOIA request, which argues that the withholding of requested information without explanation is a violation of the FOIA. Additionally, WCWP will continue to team up with Congress to bring awareness to other nontransparent animals tests being conducted by federal agencies.
In fact, a bipartisan group of Congress members have introduced legislation, the Federal Accountability in Chemical Testing(FACT) Act, in response to WCWP’s efforts. The bill, if enacted into law, would “improve reporting by EPA, FDA, NIH, USDA and other government agencies about their efforts to replace inefficient, multi-million-dollar animal tests with faster, less costly and more effective alternative methods for assessing the safety of chemicals, drugs, foods, cosmetics and other substances.”
“Animal testing costs taxpayers billions each year, and there is not nearly enough information available about what exactly Americans are paying for,” Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement to Rare. “Bipartisan support for the FACT Act and a recently secured audit of animal use in the federal government prove that efforts to protect animals while protecting taxpayers are not mutually exclusive goals.”