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  1. News Release

  2. Jun 23, 2020

Physicians Committee Joins Coalition in Petitioning NIH to Protect Octopuses Used in Research Labs

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Harvard’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic, along with a coalition that includes the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, has petitioned the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to include cephalopods—octopus, squid, and cuttlefish—among the animals entitled to humane treatment by those involved in federally funded research.

The Clinic is representing the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS) and a coalition of well-known cephalopod scientists and other organizations, including the American Anti-Vivisection Society; the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; the Humane Society of the United States; Humane Society Legislative Fund; Jennifer Jacquet, PhD; Becca Franks, PhD; Judit Pungor, PhD; Jennifer Mather, PhD; Peter Godfrey-Smith, PhD; Lori Marino, PhD; Greg Barord, PhD; Carl Safina, PhD; Heather Browning; and Walter Veit.

"It’s time for biomedical research to enter the 21st century," said Catharine E. Krebs, PhD, medical research specialist with the Physicians Committee. "It’s time to put protections in place for all nonhuman animals in research and to employ approaches most relevant to human health."

Speaking on behalf of the Petitioners, Nathan Herschler, Executive Director of NEAVS, said: "Octopus and other cephalopods are the smartest and most fascinating invertebrates in the world. They easily learn tasks, remember faces, are masters of escape, and have been around since at least the time of the dinosaurs. That we don't give them even the most basic legal protections afforded to other animals under law simply because they don't have a backbone is absurd."

Cephalopods are sentient beings who, like many other animal species, have the capacity to suffer. Many experiments on cephalopods may cause them to feel pain, such as by depriving them of food, conducting invasive neuroscience research, shocking them with electric prods, or subjecting them to inappropriate housing and care. 

The NIH’s current policy that defines which animals are entitled to be handled "humanely" excludes all invertebrates, including cephalopods. However, because of their extraordinary brains and fascinating defense capabilities, these animals—particularly octopuses—are being used increasingly in federally funded research. NIH-funded institutions are at the forefront of cephalopod research in the U.S. 

The United States also lags well behind other countries in this respect; the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union all include cephalopods within their animal welfare legislation.

Media Contact

Reina Pohl, MPH



Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.

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