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PETA planning protest against Aberdeen Proving Ground monkey tests

Animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is tentatively planning a protest around Aberdeen Proving Ground Friday and Saturday as part of a campaign to end Army training that involves monkeys.

Officials from APG were not immediately available to comment on the protests, but a base Facebook page did acknowledge that the animals were used in some training exercises.

During the training of medical personnel and first responders in chemical agent attacks, according to information on APG's Facebook page, the animals are injected with an overdose of the drug physostigmine, simulating the effects of nerve-agent exposure. The drug is "short-acting, FDA-approved [and a] reversible cholinesterase inhibitor medication for humans," according to APG's Facebook page.

There was a protest outside of the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting in Washington, D.C., Monday, just one event PETA has planned for October, Justin Goodman, associate director of laboratory investigations for PETA, said Tuesday.

Goodman said the organization has "an action for every single day for the month," including protests in D.C., Virginia and Maryland. Among the targets have been APG commanding general Maj. Nick Justice and many high ranking Army officials, according to various online accounts. Some protesters have donned monkey costumes.

Also part of the group's aggressive campaign is running print ads in local newspapers, including The Aegis and The Record, which serves the Aberdeen and Havre de Grace areas, as well as Google ads, which will appear to anyone who logs into their Google account and lives within a 100-mile radius of Aberdeen.

"We use the protest as an opportunity to reach out to the community and let them know what's going on in their backyard and how their tax dollars are being spent," Goodman said.

The APG protest will have some people in monkey suits "to attract people's attention" and will be a mix of people, including military medical professionals, Goodman said.

Some protesters will hold signs "that get to the heart of the issue," he added.

PETA also has a banner that is used at some of the protests that play's on the Army's advertising slogan. The banners read, "Army wrong."

"The goal of the campaign is to get the army, or especially APG, to get with every other Army installation, to stop poisoning animals and start using … high fidelity simulators that don't harm animals," Goodman said. He added that since the Army had a huge overhaul in the '90s that stopped the testing on dogs and other animals, installations have used alternatives.

Goodman claims APG is the lone military facility "in the entire world" that still tests on animals, citing military documents that PETA requested recording the Army's various uses of animals. He says the only record that came back documenting the testing of animals came from APG's laboratory.

According to APG's Facebook page, "The African Green Monkey is the best model for simulating a cholinergic crisis in humans. Live adult African Green Monkeys are used to train health care providers and first responders in the management of chemical attacks. The monkeys are fully anesthetized during the training."

The Facebook page goes on to say, "There are no validated non-animal simulators that adequately mimic a cholinergic response; however, [the Department of Defense] continues to evaluate new technologies and training models as they become available."

Calls Tuesday to APG's public affairs office were not immediately returned.

The training course that uses monkeys as test subjects is optional, Goodman said. Trainees do not have to participate in order to have successful training. His explanation of the training is 32 monkeys are used in the training course and are injected with the drugs every other month for three years. During the test, the animals are sedated, but not completely asleep. Effects from the drug, Goodman said, include violent convulsions, seizures, vomiting and some stop breathing. Afterward, the monkeys are treated and put back in their cages.

Goodman claims some monkeys have died after being put back in their cages. APG's Facebook page, however, says "no animal has died nor shown adverse effects after recovery from the administration of physostigmine."

Protesting military testing on animals at APG began five years ago, Goodman explained. But what inspired this latest campaign was a recent shipment of 20 or so monkeys to APG that was supposed to arrive at the end of September.

Since the beginning, Goodman says more than 100,000 people have contacted Congress through PETA's website and many supporters have sent in copies of letters sent to the government to PETA.

For more information, visit APG's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/aberdeen-proving-ground#!/APGMd and PETA's website at peta.org.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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