Nature 427, 4 (1 January 2004) | doi:10.1038/427004a

Primate lab faces closure threat over mistreatment charge

Quirin Schiermeier

Primate lab faces closure threat over mistreatment charge


TV footage of animals at Covance's laboratory has shocked the German public.

Germany's largest primate laboratory is in danger of losing its licence after a television exposé alleged mistreatment of monkeys there.

Last spring, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection sent film-maker and investigative journalist Friedrich Mülln undercover into the Münster laboratory of Covance, a multinational company that carries out contract research for the pharmaceutical industry. Over five months he secretly filmed staff seemingly tormenting macaques and rhesus monkeys.

The footage, shown last month on German public television, shows animal keepers apparently dancing with semi-anaesthetized macaques, shaking the monkeys' heads in time to music.

Bärbel Höhn, environment minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, has asked public prosecutors to investigate the “obvious unreliability” of Covance's staff. If the programme's accusations are justified, the laboratory's licence to keep primates will be withdrawn, she says.

“We are convinced that our staff have not violated animal-protection laws,” says Friedhelm Vogel, managing director of the Münster lab. “The scenes are authentic. However, they have been edited and commentary added such that the impression arises that monkeys were systematically mistreated. This is not true.” Covance has said that it will cooperate fully with the authorities and take any action required.

“It does appear as if animals were at least treated in a degrading way,” says Ivar Aune, spokesman for the German research lobby group Society for Health and Research. But he adds that “monkeys are dangerous animals and precautions have to be taken”.

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