US Rep. invites media to Morgan Island in effort to end experimentation
By Mike McCombs
U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, who represents the 1st Congressional District of South Carolina, said she had long known about “Monkey Island,” as Beaufort County’s Morgan Island is often called.
But like most Beaufort County residents she said had talked to, Mace said she was under the impression the rhesus macaques that live there were “retired” and no longer used for medical testing.
That is until last month, when an organization called the White Coat Waste Project contacted Mace and informed her monkeys from Morgan Island were, in fact, being used for medical testing on the taxpayers’ bill.
The information Mace received led to her trip to Beaufort last Thursday, Dec. 16, when she met with members of the media and traveled by boat to Morgan Island to call attention to her efforts to end taxpayer-funded experimentation on monkeys from Morgan Island.
“I want it to stop,” Mace said.
If the experimentation isn’t stopped immediately, Mace is hopeful for steps toward ending the testing and spare the taxpayers the cost.
“I can not look at the pictures of what they’re doing to these monkeys,” Mace said. “It’s gruesome. It’s disgusting. And I want to educate the folks in the Lowcountry about what’s happening, what’s happening here, what’s happening in their own back yard.”
Justin Goodman, Vice President of Advocacy and Public Policy for White Coat Waste, a watchdog group fighting to stop taxpayer-funded animal experiments, said the organization, about a month ago, was reviewing U.S. government reports about laboratories and how many animals they have and what pain levels they’re exposed to. These reports are mandated by the Federal government of all labs and breeding facilities.
“… We happened on a report for Morgan Island and 3,500 monkeys that were being held and not used for research,” Goodman said. “When we started to look into what those monkeys were being used for, there were published papers where they were doing things like injecting monkeys with ebola, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome), tuberculosis, … and they were citing Morgan Island as the source of the monkeys.”
Goodman said the group then submitted a Freedom of Information Act request and learned that 500 to 600 monkeys a year were taken from the island and sent to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), specifically Dr. Anthony Fauci’s division, and used in experiments that involved inducing excruciating pain and distress and not treating it.
“We brought the information to her because it was in her district and she immediately sprung into action, writing a letter to Dr. Anthony Fauci and planning this trip,” Goodman said.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the NIH, confirmed in a statement to The Island News that “researchers work with approximately 400 to 600 rhesus macaques from Morgan Island annually for research that helps develop life-saving prevention tools and treatments for diseases affecting public health.”
Mace disputes the NIAID’s reasons behind any testing on the monkeys, saying “the FDA says these tests aren’t necessary,” and that testing on animals, in this case monkeys, is simply not necessary to advance a drug or a treatment.
According to the NIAID, the 4,500-acre Morgan Island is home to a breeding colony of approximately 3,500 free-ranging, Indian-origin rhesus macaques that has been a source for federal government laboratories since 1979. Initially, 1,400 rhesus macaques were brought here after a herpes outbreak at their breeding colony in Puerto Rico.
A former assistant professor at Bowman Gray School of Medicine who had conducted basic research using non-human primate models, David Taub was chosen by Litton Bionetics to help secure the Morgan Island bid for the colony and run the facility. He would later run for and win election as Mayor of the City of Beaufort.
Now Taub is a regular columnist for The Island News. He wrote two columns in February of 2019 in which he detailed the history of monkeys in Beaufort County. A quote in the second of the two columns was used by both Mace and Goodman and quoted in numerous media reports as an example of the public being misled about the fate of the monkeys on Morgan Island.
“It was then, and remains today, a breeding colony. Exclusively,” Taub wrote. “No research is done using the monkeys. Yet even today ridiculous rumors abound of Dr. Moreau-style ‘secret research’ out in the boonies on Monkey Island. It is all nonsense. Balderdash. Untrue.”
But Taub’s statement is in response to the claims research was being conducted on the island, not that the monkeys weren’t being used for research. In the same piece, he points out that “each year several hundred 2-year old animals were shipped to the FDA in Bethesda, Md., in support of the polio vaccine certification program.”
(Taub’s columns from 2019 can be found at https://bit.ly/3edFvMO and https://bit.ly/3yPBR5i.)
Morgan Island is currently owned by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and leased to Charles River Laboratories, Inc., as part of a contract with the NIAID. The NIAID owns the actual monkeys.
The island costs taxpayers roughly $3.5 million a year, what the NIAID pays Charles River, according to Goodman. Charles River in turn pays SCDNR $1.5 million a year to lease the island.
According to the NIAID, “the maintenance of the colony is conducted in accordance with all federal laws, regulations and policies, and the animals are provided food, water, and veterinary and other care both on and off the island. No research is conducted on the island. All animal study proposals, including those for work with non-human primates, must be reviewed by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) composed of veterinarians, community members, and scientists.”
“I’ve done a lot of animal rights legislation and I care a lot about these issues,” Mace said. “… We’ll look at legislative options if Dr. Fauci doesn’t respond (to my letter).”
Goodman said his organization will continue to seek more information on what’s being done to the monkeys that leave Morgan Island.
Mace said there is a similar colony of monkeys in Florida that are not used for research or experiments. “I want to look at what they’re doing down there,” she said. “What does it cost? How are they managing it? And I want to turn this into the same kind of sanctuary or colony for the monkeys here. I do not want the monkeys used for scientific testing in any way, shape or form.”
The freshman Republican believes animal rights is someplace Republicans and Democrats can find common ground, a rare occurrence.
“Taking it issue by issue, in small parts, it’s easier to get movement. … Take the most egregious issues, start there, work together, Republicans and Democrats alike,” she said. “And then when we do things really large, we do things that can make a difference and do things in a bi-partisan way.”
Mike McCombs is the editor of The Island News and can be reached at TheIslandNews@gmail.com.