A marmoset feeds on a grape at the UW Primate Research Center. The center uses marmosets for testing hormone levels in captive primates.[/media-credit]

Members of the Dane County Board of Supervisors voted down a resolution to create an advisory panel specifically focused on animal research conducted at the University of Wisconsin Thursday night.

Resolution 35 sought to analyze the ethics of experimentation on non-human primates within Dane County, the conditions the animals are under during the experimentation process, and whether or not the animals have a right to retire, said Supervisor Al Matano, Dist. 11.

The Board voted not to move forward with the resolution by a 22-13 margin.

Had the vote passed, the Dane County Board would have voted on whether or not to establish the committee at the October meeting, Matano said.

Even if a committee had been created and found UW’s practices unethical, Matano said nothing would change – the panel would be for the public’s knowledge only.

Supervisor Mike Willett, District 32, said he opposed the resolution’s progress because the Board does not have the authority to influence UW policy.

Specifically, if the Board passed the motion, Willett said he wanted to know where the Board would draw the line on interfering with UW policy.

“If we start talking about this, what are we going to start talking about next”? Willett asked. “Maybe we should ban some books while we’re at it.”

Mantano said he supported the resolution because the thought of such intelligent animals being kept in cages disturbed him.

“I feel essentially that experimentation on animals is an industry driven for profit and the prestige of the research institution,” he added.

UW announced the planning of public forums on animal research Sept. 10, in an effort to increase transparency with the community.

Matano said UW proposed the forums to stop Resolution 35’s passage, calling it “a cynical, manipulative ploy.”

Other members of the Board felt UW’s forums were a step in the right direction and would satisfy the public’s need for information on the subject.

District 77 Assembly candidate and Supervisor Brett Hulsey, District 4, said he felt the Board should see what happens with UW’s forums, and if more inquiry is necessary the state Legislature would intervene.

“I think we need to let these forums do their work,” he said.

Matano said if UW conducted the forums in a neutral atmosphere and did so in good faith, he would support them. However, he does not see this as the case.

“It shows they’re feeling the pressure,” Matano said. “I see it as a desperate attempt to hold us at bay.”

Director of the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center Jon Levine said the ethics of animal research have been exhaustively debated and an advisory panel would have been unnecessary.

“Those driving this resolution issue simply don’t like the conclusions drawn in previous discussions – that biomedical research involving the humane use of animal subjects is ethical,” Levine said.

Matano said he introduced the proposal in May to follow-up a letter the Board sent to UW Chancellor Biddy Martin in December 2009.

The resolution has since appeared before two committees Matano said, with the Health and Human Needs committee approving it by a 5-2 margin and the Executive Committee postponing a vote prior to the Board’s decision Thursday.