'Export of 90 monkeys to US legally problematic'

A-G Weinstein says Nature and Parks Authority agreed to reexamine granting export license on monkeys for animal testing.

Baby long-tailed macaque monkey R (photo credit: reuters)
Baby long-tailed macaque monkey R
(photo credit: reuters)
A shipment of 90 female long-tailed macaque monkeys destined for laboratory research in the US will remain in Israel, at least for the next few weeks.
Following a High Court of Justice hearing on Wednesday, the Nature and Parks Authority gave the go-ahead to reexamine an export license granted to the Mazor Farm monkey breeding center near Petah Tikva.
Supreme Court justices Salim Joubran, Hanan Melcer and Yoram Danziger said they accepted the attorney- general’s position on the matter, in which he said there are legal difficulties with the issue of permits to export the macaques from Israel for animal testing in a US laboratory.
Wednesday’s urgent High Court hearing came after animal rights group Let the Animals Live petitioned the court last week, asking it to overturn a Central District Court decision allowing Mazor Farm to export the macaques.
Animal rights groups had slammed the Central District Court’s ruling, in which Judge Ilan S. Shilo held that the Nature and Parks Authority must permit the macaques to be exported to Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories in the US.
According to its website, SNBL is a preclinical contract research organization that specializes in nonhuman primate and small animal research. Israeli and international animal rights groups, including PETA, allege that SNBL has a record of cruelty to the animals in its laboratories, which SNBL denies.
In his formal response to the High Court petition, the attorney-general said 70 of the 90 macaques earmarked for export had been captured in the wild and that it is therefore illegal to trade in them.
The second issue Weinstein raised was the lack of any information regarding whether the US lab will use the monkeys for medical research.
Israeli policies only permit the export of animals for medical research whose aim is either to save human lives or reduce suffering in humans.
The attorney-general said that in the light of these issues, he had recommended to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority that they reexamine Mazor Farm’s request for an export license.
In response, INPA told the state attorney’s office that they accepted Weinstein’s recommendation to reexamine the permits.
In a written response, INPA’s attorney Amir Levy, said that as part of the reexamination, Mazor Farm would have to submit information from SNBL regarding the proposed research for which they wanted to use the macaques.
Levy added that INPA would also examine “the unusual request to export for research purposes adult female monkeys that had been imported to Israel from the wild.”
In Wednesday’s High Court hearing, Joubran asked whether the US Department of Health had provided assurances that the aims of the research SNBL planned to conduct using the macaques was life-saving, noting that Weinstein said this information was missing.
Attorney Robert Fishman, representing Mazor Farm, said that to the best of his knowledge, SBNL had received approvals from its ethics committee for the research.
Fishman added that Mazor Farm had been granted an export license, and then had that license taken away, adding that the resultant delays in the export were problematic.
“Naturally, research does not wait,” he said.
“The reason for the delay is the desire of [Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan] to close Mazor Farm,” Fishman added.
Last Monday, Erdan sent a letter to the National Parks Authority, in which he said Mazor Farm had not complied with Israel’s policy on trading primates, and added that he believed Israel should end its trade in monkeys.
Justice Melcer told Fishman that Mazor Farms wanted to do something outside the norms.
“You took animals from the wild and you want to to export them,” Melcer said, adding that the monkey breeding farm would now have to have that request reexamined and that it would have to comply with any decision made at the end of that examination.
Attorney Jonathan Shpigel, representing Let The Animals Live, told the court that the animal rights group was not interested in whether the US ethics authorities had granted permits for the research.
“Israel does not allow trade in primates captured in the wild,” he said.
Following the Nature and Parks Authority’s checks, which are expected to take around a month, the authority will file the results to the court, and a decision will be made on the matter.
Let The Animals Live said they welcomed the court’s decision to allow the Nature and Parks Authority to reexamine Mazor Farm’s export license, and said they hoped the end result would be to prevent the macaques being exported.
“The request [for the export license] runs contrary to justice and to Israeli policy,” a spokesman for the group said.
“The High Court emphasized in the hearing that society is changing, that what used to be acceptable is no longer acceptable, and that it is important to be aware of these social changes, especially when dealing with an issue of high public sensitivity like trading in animals for experimentation,” said Shpigel.