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Bernie Sanders: Man of the people...and other two-legged primates 

Sanders introduces a chimp protection bill.

Never let it be said that Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont's self-described socialist and man of the people, doesn't give a damn about all working stiffs, be they human or tree-swinging variety. On Wednesday, Sanders was one of the lead sponsors of S.810, also known as the "Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act," which would ban "invasive research" on chimpanzees and send all government-owned chimps into early retirement at private sanctuaries within three years.

The bill, introduced yesterday, enjoys broad bipartisan support and had nearly 170 cosponsors when it was first introduced last year. Its backers include the Physician’s Committee on Responsible Medicine, as well as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Sanders joins Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) who are also looking to protect humanity's closest genetic relative.

At a DC press conference yesterday, Michael Markarian, HSUS's executive vice president of external affairs, reported that between 80 and 90 percent of the chimps currently in U.S.-run labs are no longer being used in active research, but are essentially warehoused at taxpayers' expense.

Under a federal law passed in 2000, government-owned lab chimps must be cared for throughout for their entire lives and cannot be euthanized. The price tag for Uncle Sam's simian safety net: about $44 per day, per chimp, or $25 million to $30 million annually. That'll buy a shit-ton of bananas.

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In 2009, The HSUS released the results of a comprehensive undercover investigation of the New Iberia Research Center, part of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the largest chimp lab in the world with more than 325 chimpanzees. This investigation revealed the psychological and physical suffering that chimps are forced to endure every day — some for more than 50 years. According to Markarian, one elderly chimp, named Karen, was captured in the wild in the 1950s and has been languishing in the lab since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. Another, named Kitty (seen here in an HSUS photo), was caught in the wild and estimated to be 49 years old. For most of her life, Kitty was kept in captivity and used to breed as many as 14 babies, which were taken from her and later used in animal experiments.

Opponents of this legislation credit the use of lower primates for major advances in medical research, including drugs used for treating Hepatitis B and C in humans. That said, the United States is now the only developed country in the world that continues the large-scale confinement of chimpanzees in laboratories. Australia, the European Union, Japan and New Zealand have banned or strictly limited their use.

GlaxoSmithKline, a major pharmaceutical company that is developing therapies for hepatitis, voluntarily decided to end the use of chimpanzees in their research at the end of 2008 and stated that “while GSK recognises the importance of scientific knowledge tied to work with chimpanzees in the past, we also recognize that — in part thanks to new directions and advancement of animal models and other techniques in biomedical research — the case for using great apes in the future is less clear than it may have been previously.”

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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