Animals experiment law attacked as outdated

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 April, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 08 April, 2002, 12:00am

Hong Kong's 'outdated' animal experimentation law has been attacked for failing to regulate research such as genetic manipulation, behavioural studies and killing of animals to obtain tissue samples.

The Hong Kong Veterinary Association, the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), Animals Asia and Laboratory Animal Defenders have called on the Government to change the law, which was enacted in 1963.

Only experiments by 'academic institutions' that are 'calculated to give pain' must be conducted under licence from the Government, generally with the use of anaesthetic.

But the law fails to regulate animal experimentation by biotechnology companies and the Government, or to cover procedures causing animals distress or suffering, rather than pain.

Procedures researchers do not consider painful enough to warrant anaesthesia are also effectively unregulated, according to opponents of the status quo.

A sub-committee of the Government's Animal Welfare Advisory Group issued a report in May 2000 advocating the law be re-written, but no changes have been made.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health, which oversees the legislation, said it was discussing the way forward with the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

The secretary of the Hong Kong Veterinary Association and chairman of the sub-committee, Dr Anthony James, said the Hong Kong law was based on an 1870s British law designed to prevent vivisection.

'It is in effect 39 years old, but 126 years out of date,' he said. Animal research had changed significantly since the Hong Kong law was introduced.

Examples of procedures that vets say could cause animals distress but are not covered by Hong Kong laws include:

Drug dependency studies, including withdrawal from illicit drugs;

Genetic manipulation;

Using animals to produce disease antibodies; and

Testing new drugs or traditional Chinese medicines.

The law arguably does not regulate a situation where animals are humanely killed to harvest their tissues.

The veterinary director of animal welfare group Animals Asia, Dr Gail Cochrane, said the Government had been 'a little slow on the uptake' on the issue.

Hong Kong universities went beyond the minimum legal standard to use ethics committees to approve animal research as a condition of receiving government funding, she said.

But this system was insufficient because there was no control over the make-up of the committees, which could be manipulated to isolate non-scientific voices.

The deputy executive director of the SPCA, Dr Pauline Taylor, said law reform should be a priority for the Government.

The chairman of the University of Hong Kong's committee on the use of live animals in teaching and research, Professor Chan Ying-shing, said all research in the university using animals had to be approved by the committee.

In deciding whether to approve the research, the group considered issues including possible benefits to society, the number of animals to be used, the effect on them and drug doses.

A spokesman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said its animal research projects were reviewed under the supervision of an assistant director and senior veterinarian, with reference to an Australian code of practice.