Created by on 08/27/2012


On July 25th, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) passed an amended version of S 810, the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (GAPCSA), which would prohibit invasive research on great apes and require the retirement of hundreds of National Institutes of Health (NIH) owned or supported chimpanzees. Senators James Inhofe (R-OK), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Mike Johanns (R-NE) were the only members of the EPW Committee to vote against the legislation. Inhofe stated, "This bill, I believe, goes too far… The [Institute of Medicine] committee's report does not endorse an outright ban on chimpanzee research.” Continuing to quote the report he commented on “how disruptive an immediate outright ban would be, affecting animal care and potentially causing unacceptable losses to the public's health.”
Chimpanzees are the only great apes currently used in biomedical research. The amended bill offered by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) includes a contingency clause in the event that great apes are needed to study future health threats. However, the Cardin-Boxer amendment fails to acknowledge the other instances of research involving chimpanzees that the Institute of Medicine said may still be necessary. Furthermore, the contingency plan in the amended language would require a long, onerous procedure with multiple Federal Register notifications before chimpanzees could be brought out of retirement. The process would make it nearly impossible to respond to a threat in sufficient time. A webcast of the markup can be viewed here (discussion of GAPCSA begins around minute 45). The bill still has a long way to go before it becomes law. It must pass the full Senate, and the House companion bill (HR 1513) will have to be approved by the Energy and Commerce Committee and pass the full House. Any differences in the Senate and House versions of the bill would have to be reconciled prior to approval by the President.
In anticipation of the July 25th Senate markup, FASEB sent letters to all members of the EPW Committee asking them to oppose the legislation and activated an alert, which was distributed to members of FASEB’s e-action list. The alert generated over 1,300 letters to Senators. Following the markup, FASEB distributed a press release expressing profound disappointment in the passage of the amended bill. In the press release, FASEB President, Judith Bond, PhD, stated, “In the face of a rapidly spreading infectious disease, these restrictions could prevent scientists from addressing [a] threat in sufficient time, leading to an untold loss of lives and prolonged human suffering.” A posting in Nature’s newsblog highlighted FASEB’s vehement opposition to GAPCSA and linked to our press release and letters. 

In order to engage the public on the value of chimpanzee research, FASEB Past President, William Talman, MD authored a blog in the Huffington Post Science section. Using the example of Ebola hemorrhagic fever, Talman highlighted the importance of biomedical research involving captive chimpanzees on helping their wild great ape counterparts and human beings.