“Water restriction” at NeuroSpin: obeying for a few drops of water

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Year after year, the Essonne Prefecture suggests to NeuroSpin that they ‘train’ primates in another way than depriving them of water. But the documents obtained by One Voice show that the establishment has not deemed it useful to listen to this very obliging advice… To the point where the Prefect, however reluctant to sanction this laboratory, banned the use of ‘water restriction’ in 2022. The result: the macaques are deprived of food instead of being deprived of water. We are asking the Versailles Tribunal to quite simply retract NeuroSpin’s authorisation.

What is ‘water restriction’?

When a monkey arrives at a laboratory, they are often given a plastic ‘collar’, which allows the staff to grab hold of them with a pole in their cage to force them to go into the ‘restraint chair’ which is used for experiments in particular. In order to facilitate this handling, the animal will be “trained” to “cooperate”. More clearly: they will condition them to obey.

‘Water restriction’ (or ‘water control’) is one of the most commonly used methods for this: they reduce the monkey’s water supply until the prospect of having a few drops of water “motivates” them to get into the chair themselves and to stay there for hours while pressing on a screen, their head often immobilised by an iron bar cemented into their skull. A good response: a drop of water. They have to be really thirsty to get to that point.

Image taken from a report from the NeuroSpin meeting on 23 September 2019.

NeuroSpin, a specialist in water restriction

For more than ten years, the NeuroSpin laboratory has systematically deprived macaques of water for its experiments. However, they have never known how to properly explain to veterinary inspectors why they do not look for a method that causes less suffering. The truth is simple: experiments count for more than a few monkeys’ health.

But they must find a more acceptable alibi. This is specifically on the basis of a document co-written by NeuroSpin that the National Consultative Ethics Committee [CNREEA – Comité national de réflexion éthique sur l’expérimentation animale] formulated in 2021 on the recommendations on practising water restriction: depriving animals of water must be avoided “as far as possible” and when it is done, the necessity[…] must be duly justified”.

No longer possible to deprive them of water? The laboratory deprives them of food!

Faced with this very unambitious opinion, the NeuroSpin staff feared “observing a drop in performance when water is given in the cage and on weekends” and “that the animals would quickly learn that they end up getting water in their cage even if they do not cooperate during training”. Words that do not really highlight their respect for animals…

In 2022, the Prefecture did the bare minimum by completely banning water deprivation at this laboratory, all while renewing their authorisation for six years, despite Kimiko’s death and the suffering of all of the others. But NeuroSpin did not stop there: since 2021, researchers have spoken about depriving primates of food if they cannot deprive them of water.

Twenty-one macaques are still prisoners in this hell. For them, we have asked that NeuroSpin’s authorisation be retracted by the Prefect, who has refused. But his complacency will not stop us from fighting: we have given the case files to the Versailles Administrative Tribunal. You can sign our petition to ask for this laboratory to be closed and for the primates to be placed in a sanctuary.