PORTLAND &

Animal rights activists said Tuesday they have filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the treatment of monkeys at a national research laboratory in Oregon, where scientists defended their record of animal care.




People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said it had documented violations of federal animal protection laws by sending someone to work undercover for four months as a technician at the Oregon National Primate Research Center operated by Oregon Health Science University in suburban Hillsboro.




Kathy Guillermo, PETA spokeswoman, said the primate center "has consistently operated in violation of federal guidelines governing animal research practices."




But university spokesman Jim Newman said the USDA has investigated previous complaints about the primate center and found no violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.




"The reality with OHSU is that every time an animal rights group has come after us and made claims that animals are being mistreated, every time the investigation has shown that is not true," Newman said.




PETA alleges that some animals were subjected to unnecessary research, including studies on the effects of nicotine or removing infant monkeys from their mothers &

studies that PETA said have already been done for years. The group also claimed that some monkeys received inadequate veterinary care or were improperly caged.




But university officials defended their management of the center, noting it has been accredited for the past 32 years by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International.




The university accused PETA of distorting facts about animal care and research to further a political agenda, "and that's to close down all labs that conduct medical research that uses animals," Newman said.




As an example, Newman said studies about the effects of nicotine were aimed at improving the health of children born to women who smoke &

not to show smoking is unhealthy.




"We all know smoking is bad for you," Newman said. "But despite all the information that smoking is bad for you, thousands and thousands of women continue to smoke and damage their babies. Our research is aimed at counteracting the effects of what those mothers are doing."




The PETA allegations also included: failure to monitor animals after surgery; failure to handle animals in a way that does not cause trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm or unnecessary discomfort; failure to ensure that personnel conducting procedures are qualified to perform their duties; failure to properly clean enclosures in a manner that does not distress primates; failure to provide environmental enrichment; and failure to provide structurally sound housing for primates.




OHSU officials denied the allegations and pointed to recent USDA inspections that found no problems.




"The reality is we have a sparkling clean record for this entire year," Newman said.




The PETA complaint came on the same day that the Animal Legal Defense Fund &

which filed a similar complaint against OHSU in 2000 &

released a new report ranking Oregon among the best states nationally for animal protection laws.




California, Illinois, Maine and Michigan also were ranked among the best for protecting animals, while Alaska, Arkansas, Kentucky, North Dakota, and Utah were ranked as the five "best states to be an animal abuser."




Joyce Tischler, the attorney who founded the defense fund, noted there is a difference between state laws that protect domestic animals and pets, compared to research animals protected by the federal Animal Welfare Act.




But she said the Animal Legal Defense Fund has spent much of the past 20 years suing the USDA in order to get it to enforce the federal act, revised by Congress in 1985 to require that primates &

such as the rhesus macaque monkeys in Oregon &

be provided "environmental enrichment" to improve their "psychological well-being."




"It's important because Congress recognized that primates actually have psychological well-being," Tischler said.




She said one of the problems at primate centers is that too many of the highly intelligent monkeys are isolated, contrary to their need to socialize and have physical contact with each other.




"One of the worst punishments you can visit on a human being is isolation," Tischler noted.




Newman pointed out that research at the primate center has led to a number of advances in medical care, including the discovery announced last week that vaccines last longer than previously believed.




"That's important because it has the ability to save millions of health care dollars in not revaccinating the public needlessly," Newman said.




He also noted the university is expecting what could be a "significant breakthrough" in research using monkeys. A London newspaper reported Tuesday the research involved monkey embryos and stem cells but Newman said OHSU officials could not discuss it until a study is released by the scientific journal Nature.




PETA officials said their complaint filed with the USDA urged the agency to immediately investigate conditions at the primate center.




Efforts to reach USDA officials after hours in Washington, D.C., were unsuccessful.