Protesters held signs and shouted through a bullhorn outside the offices of construction company Skanska USA in downtown Seattle Dec. 8, hoping to stop construction of an animal-research facility on the University of Washington campus.
Construction of the two-story, 83,000-square-foot underground facility is expected to begin in April. The facility, to be built into the south-facing slope next to the William H. Foege Building on Northeast Boat Street, is intended to allow the university to modernize and consolidate animal-research facilities on campus and house the Department of Comparative Medicine and the Non-Human Primate Center under one roof. Cost through the design phase is projected to be $124 million.
In a press release, Amanda Schemkes, director of Don’t Expand UW Primate Testing, says, “Skanska prides itself on sustainability and claims it to be one of their core values. … Yet they are about to begin construction on a project that is the embodiment of waste and callous treatment of life.”
On the website NoNewAnimalLab.com, the group accuses the UW of killing “thousands of animals – primates, mice, pigs, rabbits, cats and others – every year, and they suffer and die behind closed doors.”
According to a recent Seattle Times article, “The UW now houses about 650 monkeys and other primates in two facilities, said David Anderson, UW executive director of health-sciences administration. The new center would add space for an additional 280.
It also would allow the university to increase the number of rodents used in research by 10 to 20 percent, and nearly double the number of pigs — which are increasingly used to test medical devices because their cardiovascular systems are so similar to humans’.”
Skanska is a multinational company based in Sweden. Its construction revenues in the United States in 2012 were $5.8 billion, representing 30 percent of Skanska’s global revenue according to it’s website.
The number of animals used in scientific research has dropped considerably in the United States.The National Institutes of Health announced last year it would “substantially reduce the use of chimpanzees in NIH-funded biomedical research and designate for retirement most of the chimpanzees it currently owns or supports.” The Harvard Medical School decided to close its troubled primate-research center after research funding decreased and at least four monkeys died in recent years.
In a letter sent in response to people who expressed concern to the UW Board of Regents, Anderson – also an associate professor in the Department of Comparative Medicine – said, “We are committed to conduct critical biomedical research providing new medical advances for human and animal populations while ensuring this research is performed according to the highest scientific and ethical standards. … It will provide a housing and research environment that minimizes stress to animals while supporting a wide variety of important studies designed to improve health and cure disease.”
At Espresso Vivace Alley 24 on the morning of the protest, the shop was abuzz with patrons gathering for coffee and tea while animal advocates stood outside the neighboring Skanska offices with signs for an hour. Most weren’t aware of the proposed animal-research facility or the protester’s concerns. Several people watched the protesters from inside the entire time but had no comment. At one point the blinds closed over all the windows of the upper floors of the building.
“Without a construction company, no facility can be built, and without a facility, no animals can be held captive and tormented — it’s that simple,” says Justin Kay, an organizer of the No New Animal Lab campaign. “We are going to demonstrate to Skanska how simple it is.”
Calls to Skanska USA for comment were not returned.
Update: The Seattle Times reports today, Dec. 9., that three infant monkeys were killed in separate incidents by older males who attacked them while locked in a cage last fall at the University of Washington which led to a federal citation.