Protesters want to end monkey research at UMass

AMHERST — Inside a building at the University of Massachusetts, laboratory experiments on marmoset monkeys continue, despite occasional protests from animal rights organizations who have targeted the work.

While the use of primates has been a focus of discussion, a newly formed group of students are promoting the welfare of all animals, such as those displayed on campus as part of an exotic animal show or the horses used to pull a carriage at the recent Fire & Ice: A Winter Celebration which welcomed back-to-school students.

“We’re looking at how UMass can improve more broadly,” said Jacey Woods, of Woburn, and UMass Student for Animal Liberation member. “We want to make sure that animals are taken care of when they are brought to campus, and that there is just one treatment for all animals.”

Woods was among a handful of students joining members of the Western Massachusetts Animal Rights Advocates community at a protest Wednesday afternoon outside the Student Union, holding signs with phrases like “End Animal Labs.” and “UMass: Stop Torturing Marmousets”, and distributing literature to educate about the on-campus practices they oppose.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last spring launched a campaign to end research on monkeys, which has been championed by the administration as important to solving aging problems in humans, and meets the demands extensive federal animal welfare regulations.

Woods said the student group, which fights for the rights of all nonhuman animals, also promotes responsibility and research in humane and ethical ways, and to show other students that problematic practices can be ended, noting that the group is connected with fellow students at the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy which covers a range of issues, such as food insecurity and student loan debt.

“Students need to be aware that they have the power to effect change,” Woods said.

Protest organizers want UMass students to know more about what’s going on, especially that marmosets were injured in labs and one died from burns in 2015.

“We are truly appalled that such needless cruelty is happening on this campus, and it has been going on for years,” said Sheryl Becker, Agawam resident and president of the organization.

The studies, she said, focus on menopause, and the different means of testing involve implanting electrodes in the brain and making incisions in the neck, as well as the use of heated gloves. to simulate menopause.

“The monkeys are suffering tremendously,” Becker said.

She also argues that because research depends on grants, like those from the National Institutes of Health, administrators have turned a blind eye when bad things happen. “When a monkey suffered and died there, nothing was done,” Becker said.

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewksi released a statement on behalf of UMass saying that medical advances, based on animal research, improve and save the lives of people and animals.

“UMass Amherst is committed to the care of laboratory animals, which includes the highest ethical standards, rigorous care, and compliance with all applicable federal and state laws and guidelines,” Blaguszewski said.

“UMass Amherst conducts animal research to examine a wide range of health issues. Animals are used in research when there are no better options. Animal research at UMass Amherst takes place in a variety of fields of study, including veterinary science, agricultural science, and different areas of medical research.

Tiffany Davignon of Conway said she wants to live near a flagship campus that better represents the values ​​of the community. “I want to be a voice for them and hope awareness brings change to these unnecessary practices,” Davignon said, adding that the experiments don’t help women or understand menopause but win grants from research.

“It’s about money, not menopause or brats,” Davignon said.

“The research is well outdated,” said Wendy Hollis of Agawam.

Becker said her organization has taken action elsewhere, including every year at the Eastern States Exposition, where objections are made to exhibiting animals, and at a Springfield store she calls a puppy mill. . The organization also successfully shut down a lab at Baystate Medical Center that was using live pigs.

“I just hope they change their minds,” said Crysania Dangoor, a sophomore at UMass from Michigan. “I think UMass can do better than that, and I don’t think that kind of experimentation is justifiable.”

“As a progressive college with a focus on social justice, we can and must do better,” Dangoor said.

Wyatt Mitchell, a sophomore chemistry student, came to the protest to learn more about the defenders’ claims and appreciates that their peaceful demonstration allowed students to talk about science and gain more clarity on the experiments. . “Opening up scientific research is very important,” Mitchell said.

Another student seeking more information agreed. “It’s good to have some openness to scientific research and other such endeavors,” said Matthew Sawyer, a first-year earth science student.

Scott Merzbach can be contacted at [email protected]