PETA sues Massachusetts for withholding public information

People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc., more commonly known as PETA, filed a lawsuit against Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources for withholding information regarding the transport of various species of monkeys in 2013.

The lawsuit, filed on Oct. 14 against the MDAR and its commissioner, Gregory Watson, was a result of MDAR’s failure to provide requested public information about companies and universities that have imported monkeys into the Commonwealth, and its redaction of certain information that had been previously provided, according to the complaint.

“DAR provided some documents related to the importation of 141 monkeys in 2013, but the materials were redacted to remove the names of parties involved,” said Justin Goodman, director of PETA’s Laboratory Investigations Department, in an email. “DAR claimed that releasing this information would present a public safety risk, but when we requested that they provide a sufficient basis for that claim — as is required by law — they failed to produce a relevant reason.”

PETA first requested these public records on Feb. 21, to which MDAR responded on April 23, according to the complaint. Certain information provided, such as information about the sellers and recipients of the primates, was later withheld by MDAR, which claimed certain disclosure could put the animals’ public safety at risk.

Massachusetts is a major center for experimentation on monkeys in the United States, Goodman said. Because one of PETA’s major campaigns is working to end the importation of monkeys for experimental purposes, the organization had been seeking information about who is transporting these monkeys and what they are being used for, Goodman said.

“Access to these documents may help ascertain whether the shipments have complied with government, corporate and university policies and also allow us to open dialogue with the parties involved,” he said. “Companies and universities often also have policies against purchasing animals from companies that violate animal welfare laws, and without information on the suppliers and transporters, we can not determine whether such policies are being adhered to.”

Monkeys and other non-human primates are used, depending on the species, to research Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), DRUG ABUSE and vaccine and other drug testing, according to research conducted by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, an organization dedicated to replacing the use of animals in research and experimentation.

These findings are similar to PETA’s research, which cites 10 organizations and universities, including Boston University, which collectively used more than 8,000 non-human primates in their research in 2011 alone.

“There are thousands of monkeys and other primates currently confined in laboratories at Boston University, Charles River Laboratories, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard University…and other laboratories,” Goodman said. “For such a small state, Massachusetts houses a large number of animal laboratories due to its concentration of universities, pharmaceutical and biotech firms.”

Theodora Capaldo, president and executive director of NEAVS, said transparency around this funding could potentially cause an increase of public opposition due to the fact that there is not substantial proof that monkeys have the same genetic makeup of humans.

“Monkeys have been used historically for just about every area of research from trying to create disease models, develop vaccines [and] explore neurological brain functions,” she said. “There is pretty much not any area of research that monkeys haven’t by someone somewhere been the chosen model, despite whether or not that model has true applicability to predict what would happen in the human being.”

Several residents said they support PETA’s lawsuit and oppose the mistreatment of animals for experimental purposes.

Madison Sico, 22, of Boston, said she finds the fact that the MDAR withheld information suspicious.

“It’s awful that there is even experimentation in Massachusetts to begin with, and the fact that they’re hiding something probably means they’re doing something wrong,” she said. “PETA is right in requesting this information, because obviously Massachusetts is doing something wrong.”

Barry Mahoney, 46, of Dorchester, said while PETA may often take extreme measures, the organization has good intentions and exists for a reason.

“PETA is incredibly radical, but I don’t think they’re wrong,” he said. “They do things that I might not agree with, but I definitely think they exist for a reason. If they’re [the Commonwealth] going to experiment on animals, they must be completely transparent.”

La Keisha Marie, 32, of Roxbury, said she is outraged to hear that experimentation on animals is so common in Massachusetts.

“It makes me raise an eyebrow when someone doesn’t want to cooperate to make Massachusetts a better place,” she said. “I want to be proud of where I live, and I want to promote where I’m from.”

This article was originally published in The Daily Free Press.

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