The situation in Bremen

Since the neuroscience researcher Andreas Kreiter was appointed to the University of Bremen in 1997, there has been vehement resistance. Thanks to the countless protests of tens of thousands of citizens, politicians reacted. The competent authoritiy denied a further extension of Kreiter's permit.

Brain research on monkeys 

The Bürgerschaft of Bremen (the city-state’s legislative assembly) voted unanimously to stop his experiments on monkeys. Until then Kreiter’s permit had been extended every three years, the last extension expiring on November 30th 2008. 

Benefit for sick humans is nil

In October 2008 Ingelore Rosenkötter (Social Democratic Party of Germany), Senator for Health and responsible for animal welfare, denied a further extension of permit. Bremen’s Social Democrat and Greens coalition government above all has ethical reservations and states that animal welfare may outweigh the experiments’ possible benefits. According to the German Animal Protection Act, experiments on animals must be »indispensible« and »ethically justifiable«. The importance of animal welfare is additionally underlined by its enshrinement in the German constitution and the state constitution of Bremen.

Kreiter, however, insists on his constitutional right to freedom of research. In an unparalleled media campaign, the neuroscientist has portrayed himself as a victim of politics and animal welfare interests. He claims that he wants to help sufferers of epilepsy. One can claim to want a lot, but there is no-one who can verify Kreiter’s claims. Experiments on monkeys can at best offer insights into the functions of monkeys’ brains. A possible treatment for Alzheimer’s disease or epilepsy is merely an attempted justification for what is in fact nothing other than pure research devoid of any practical context. Any use for sick humans is virtually nil.

Unbearable suffering

Kreiter also claims that the monkeys do not suffer. He claims that their confinement is of exemplary international standards and that monkeys in the wild also do not drink frequently. The animals are conditioned over years to climb into a primate chair and let their heads be affixed by means of a previously implanted bolt, in return for a drop of juice. Thus affixed, they must stare at a video monitor for hours each day and shift levers. Kreiter euphemistically calls this »training«, but in the case of humans one would call it torture. The animals are forced by means of continuous thirst to endure conditions humans would consider unbearable. Visitors whom Kreiter generously guides through his laboratory do not realise the extent of the animals’ suffering. Thirst can not be seen.

All this is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Research and Technology, the German Research Foundation (DFG), the EU and a variety of foundations. As recently as July 2008 the DFG again approved 1.2 million euros for the experiments on monkeys at the University of Bremen. The DFG is financed by federal and state public funding.

The fact that Bremen’s Senate turned down the research application must be regarded as a milestone. It can not be accepted that a publically funded researcher simply ignores social values and democratic principles. Freedom of research at the expense of sentient animals must at last be put an end to.

Legal dispute - brain researcher won his lawsuit

Unlike in Berlin or Munich, where applications for similar animal experiments were recently turned down by the authorities without much resistance from the researchers, in Bremen a bitter legal dispute lasting years must be expected. With the German Research Foundation and the University of Bremen behind him, Kreiter intends to take the matter as far as the Federal Constitutional Court. The research community fears future constraints on the previously unfettered freedom of scientific research. This will be a legal precedent that could affect approval procedures for animal experiments beyond Bremen’s borders.

The neuroscientist filed a formal objection against Bremen’s health authority’s decision and simultaneously applied for an interim court order allowing him to continue the experiments until the legal dispute is settled. That, however, could take years. On December 19th 2008, Bremen’s Administrative Court ruled that the experiments may be continued for a maximum of two months subsequent to service of the health authority’s pending decision on the objection, but denied a provisional permit beyond that period.

The health authority confirmed its refusal of Kreiter's permit on 12th August 2009. On 20th October 2009 the Administrative Court ruled that the experiments may continue until its final decision is made. This means that Kreiter may continue his research without permit as required by the German Animal Protection Law.

On 28 May 2010 the Bremen Administrative Court rescinded the approval authority’s decision rejecting the researcher’s application to continue his animal experiments and directed the authority to formulate a new reasoning for its rejection. The authority must supply a new expertise, clarifying the degree of suffering inflicted on the animals as well as the significance of the research project. 

In this first hearing, the judges entirely disregarded the constitutional objective of animal protection and showed themselves to be more inclined toward the university’s interests. They obviously regarded freedom of research to be superior to animal protection, which was enshrined in the German constitution with equivalent status in 2002. 

After years of legal dispute in February 2012 the Federal Administrative Court ruled that the authority was wrong to deny permit of brain researcher Andreas kreiter. This is of course a catastrophe as now there is no chance to challenge brain research on primates of other institutions against which we have been campaigning for many years. 

Dr. Corina Gericke D.V.M.

Further information

Brain experiments on monkeys in Germany >>