Outdated laws hamper ability to do high-quality animal research

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 November, 2010, 12:00am

It was with great interest that I read your report ('Legco pushes for animal rights', November 1) and it is heartening to note that the chief executive included animal welfare in his policy address.

However, it disappoints me greatly to see that the his policy initiative is limited to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Ordinance.

Amanda Whitfort, of the University of Hong Kong, in her excellent report titled, 'Review of Animal Welfare Legislation in Hong Kong', and in her article ('In harm's way', September 10), noted the abysmal state of our animal-related legislation.

Professor Whitfort said that the legislation concerning the welfare of our companion animals is outmoded.

She noted that what was equally important was the fact that the law concerning the transport and slaughter of food animals and controlling animal experimentation in Hong Kong is also either out of date, totally inadequate or both.

My personal experience with animal use is in relation to the use of animals for scientific purposes and I am disappointed to see that the chief executive makes no mention of reviewing and rewriting the laws concerning animal research.

Our current legislation was gazetted in 1963 and is a legal transplant from Victorian Britain. Yes, the foundations of our animal research law are more than 100 years old.

The laws have no relevance to the type of research carried out in the 21st century. They do not protect the welfare of animals from abuse and they do not provide a strong framework for high-quality research.

As a consequence of the absence of good research laws, our international competitiveness is hindered and the development of a strong and viable biotech industry is not possible.

One only needs to look at Singapore which has very modern and quite good laws governing animal research.

As a consequence, the biotech industry makes up 20 per cent of its gross national product.

Good welfare is good science and although our decision makers do not comprehend this message it has not been lost, even on the mainland. There, the body of legislation and regulations controlling animal research is growing in response to the developing biotech industry.

Let us hope the brevity of the chief executive's policy on animal welfare was out of necessity to fit his speech into the allotted time and not out of ignorance on the real needs of animal welfare in Hong Kong.

Dr Anthony E. James, director, Laboratory Animal Services Centre, Chinese University