Animal tests 'not checked'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 August, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 August, 1999, 12:00am

A legislator urged stricter regulations yesterday over animal experiments.

Christine Loh Kung-wai of the Citizens Party said she had found a big discrepancy between the figure for the number of animals used in experiments at two local universities and the official figure reported to the Department of Health.

Under the Animals (Control of Experiments) Ordinance, researchers who want to perform experiments on live vertebrate animals must apply for a permit from the Department of Health.

Figures Ms Loh obtained from sources at the Chinese University and the University of Hong Kong showed that more than 80,000 animals were used in experiments in the 1997-98 academic year. These included rats, mice and rabbits.

But Department of Health figures show that last year 583 permits were issued covering about 26,000 animals.

Ms Loh wrote to Secretary for Health and Welfare Katherine Fok Lo Shiu-ching yesterday to question the accuracy of the Government's figures.

She said although the two sets of figures were collected over slightly different periods, the discrepancy was large enough to raise concerns.

'The current system assumes that if an experiment is not causing pain then there is no need to monitor it. I believe this approach is outdated and unethical,' she said in the letter.

Yesterday, the South China Morning Post revealed that Hong Kong surgeons were to operate on 30 monkeys in Qingdao on the mainland.

The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals fears the project will open the floodgates for local scientists to circumvent animal testing protocols and regulations in the SAR.

Three monkeys have died during brain operations the scientists hope will reveal the cause of the spine deformity scoliosis.

The society's deputy executive director, Cynthia Smillie, said the Government should step up monitoring on researchers.

'The regulations here are so loose, the figures show there must be under-reporting of use of animals,' she said.

Professor Ricky Man Ying-keung, chairman of the University of Hong Kong's seven-member committee on the use of live animals in teaching and research, said they had been using international standards to consider each application.

He said the chance for local researchers to get around Hong Kong laws would be slim.