Experiments that will infect healthy dogs with the rabies virus will continue as planned, the Council of Agriculture said, dismissing calls of protest from animal activists and Hollywood stars.
US entertainment news Web site Ecorazzi reported on Monday that celebrities, including actors Alec Baldwin and Maggie Q, have petitioned Council Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基), urging Taiwan to focus on vaccinating dogs and cats to prevent transmission of the deadly disease, rather than infecting healthy animals to learn more about it.
Council Deputy Minister Wang Cheng-teng (王政騰) said on Tuesday that no changes have been made to plans to conduct the animal tests.
The experiments will start with healthy mice and Formosan ferret-badgers before testing on dogs, as part of an effort to see how rabies is transmitted between species, he added.
To date, rabies in Taiwan has been found almost exclusively in ferret-badgers, with the sole exception of one Asian house shrew, prompting speculation that this particular strain of the virus cannot be passed on to other species.
In his letter, Baldwin urged the council to call off the experiments, “since we already know that all [rabies] variants can infect any warm-blooded animals.”
“I have two dogs myself and want them to be safe from the threat of rabies, so I understand your concern about the recent rabies outbreak in Taiwan, your desire to protect the city’s [sic] animals and humans,” the Emmy Award-winning actor wrote, according to media reports. “But infecting beagle puppies with this new strain of rabies isn’t the answer.”
Actress and animal rights campaigner Maggie Q wrote her own letter of protest to Chen last month, and called the tests “a step backward.”
The US Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has also campaigned against what it calls a “cruel experiment.”
“It sounds like a scene from a horror movie,” committee president Neal Barnard wrote in the organization’s petition on Change.org that has gathered more than 46,000 signatures.
The council responded to similar criticisms and protests last month by saying it would strictly follow laboratory and ethical standards.
Chen said at the time that the experiments would only go ahead with approval from a panel composed of animal rights activists and experts, along with members of the council’s Animal Health Research Institute.