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Bremen Administrative Court authorises further neurological research on monkeys, with some restrictions.

The German association Doctors Against Animal Experiments (DAAE) strongly criticises the recent decision by the Bremen Administrative Court to only partially reject invasive brain research on monkeys. However, the organisation sees partial success in the fact that the experiments will only be permitted with restrictions, and for a limited period. Overall, DAAE is confident that this outcome will be significant for future decisions regarding the approval of primate brain research in Germany and internationally, and will put these questionable experiments under massive scrutiny. 

The Bremen Administrative Court has ruled that the licensing authority must provisionally authorise primate brain researcher Kreiter to carry out a new experiments, albeit with one restriction: no newly procured animals can be subjected to any surgical interventions in preparation for the experiments. This constitutes a rejection of the original overall application. The court has also specified that the authorisation will be limited to a period of two months after the decision by the licensing authority, on the grounds of the rejection of Kreiter’s overall application to conduct animal experiments.

The court stated that the expert reports were not constructed on a scientifically sound basis, and that it was thus impossible to determine whether the significance of the research project was sufficient to justify the impact on the animals. Therefore, when producing its impact assessment, the court only took the applicant’s arguments into account. Since the expert statements regarding the impact on the animals and the ethical justifiability of the experiments were largely disregarded, it was concluded that the experiments outweighed the burden on the animals. The impact on the animals was categorised as merely moderate.

This assessment is incomprehensible for DAAE. However, the fact that the court does not, for now, consider invasive measures on the ten newly requested animals to be necessary is seen by DAAE as a milestone, especially since the experiments in question are largely based on invasive measures. Considering the documentation of the severe suffering involved in monkey brain research, and its unproven benefits, the organisation is confident that this kind of research will not be upheld in further assessments. Furthermore, the court points out in its decision that the assessment of the degree of severity could well turn out differently in a principal lawsuit.  

The background: in November 2023, the health authority in Bremen denied approval for the continuation of the experiments. The decision was based on, among other things, various expert reports commissioned by the authority. According to these reports, neurophysiological experiments entail a lifetime of severe suffering for the animals involved and can lead to the monkeys developing behavioural disorders as a result of the stress. In general, the authority considers the experiments to be ethically unacceptable. 

As a result of the rejection, the University of Bremen filed an urgent appeal with the administrative court, which has now been decided upon. "Considering the improved Animal Welfare Act of 2021, the wide range of animal-free, human-relevant brain research models, and the fact that the suffering of the monkeys is evidently very severe while the experiments themselves produce no proven benefits for human health, this decision is not fully comprehensible, but is a small step in the right direction," says biologist Silke Strittmatter, research associate at Doctors Against Animal Experiments.

As recently as October 2022, the case of the monkey Jara from Baden-Württemberg, which DAAE exposed, proved that primates experience not only severe, but extremely severe suffering during such experiments. DAAE is in possession of internal official reports documenting, among other things, around 20 drill holes in the skull, corresponding puncture wounds in the brain, and associated centres of inflammation in Jara’s head. It also confirms that such injuries are unavoidable and cannot be dismissed as an isolated case. 

The Bremen health authorities had already rejected the brain experiments on monkeys in 2008, which led to a legal dispute. Ultimately, the Federal Administrative Court ruled in 2014 that animal welfare weighed less than the freedom of research and that the suffering of the animals should be considered as "moderate" at most. The decision was largely based on an expert opinion from the Primate Centre in Göttingen, which carries out such experiments itself, breeds various monkey species for use in research, and provides them to other institutions.

DAAE has been supporting the approval authority for years with its expertise and extensive statements, and has raised public awareness with other activities such as poster campaigns. In the experiments, the monkeys are forced to solve tasks on a screen with their heads fixated, and are deprived of fluids while invasive measurements are made of the brain.