The Council of Agriculture’s provisional freeze on animal experiments that it had previously deemed “necessary” shows its perfunctory attitude toward the subject and a lack of adequate assessment and deliberation before decisionmaking, the Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) said yesterday.
Under public pressure, the Central Epidemic Command Center released a statement on Monday saying that the need to conduct an experiment that involves infecting 14 beagles with rabies would be reconsidered following further consultation with domestic and foreign experts.
“This sudden change of attitude shows that the council had not been taking animal experiments seriously until the plan was criticized,” EAST director Chen Yu-min (陳玉敏) said.
The society called on the council to make public its application for the experiment and have an external investigation team composed of relevant experts and animal protection group evaluate, in accordance with the Animal Protection Act (動物保護法) and the “Three Rs” principle of animal experimentation — replacement, reduction and refinement — the necessity and effectiveness of the experiment for disease prevention.
“Is the experiment really ‘a necessary evil’ for disease prevention? Who is to judge how reasonable and necessary the experiment is? And who is going to conduct post-approval monitoring to ensure animal welfare and experiment quality?” Chen asked.
Chen said that between 2002 and 2010, more than 10 million animals were used in experiments, of which rodents were the majority, at about 8.3 million. Two-hundred-thousand rabbits, 4,000 dogs and cats and 639 primates were also used.
“This exorbitant number makes us wonder how many of them were actually unnecessary deaths,” EAST director-general Chu Tseng-hung (朱增宏) said.
There are several institutional deficiencies in the management of animal experiments in Taiwan, Chu added.
Absent a third-party or external investigation mechanism, the assessment of animal experimentation projects is an insiders’ game, Chu said.
“Although every project must be applied for in accordance with the Act, most research institutes’ institutional animal care and use committees are composed of people from their own institutions,” Chu said.
“The project is therefore often not properly scrutinizd d by the committee, and is passed even when the need for the experiments is left unexplained or when it fails to specify if or when the animals would be anesthetized or euthanized,” Chu said.
Most laboratories, of which there are about 200 in the country, are not staffed with veterinarians and lack post-approval monitoring programs, Chu said.
“And the experimental animal breeding facilities are not subject to any kind of supervision and assessment,” Chu added.
The organization urged the government to follow the lead of the UK, where not only do institutions have their own animal welfare and ethical review bodies, but licenses are required for experiment projects, experimental institutions and people carrying out procedures on animals, and most institutions are inspected more than once by government inspectors.
Animal Protection section chief Lin Tsung-yi (林宗毅) said the rules governing the care and use of institutional animals have just been revised and will soon be announced, adding that the authority will step up its review of experiments proposed by such institutions.
Tseng Chun-hsien (曾俊憲), an associate research fellow at the council’s Animal Health Research Institute, said that the council tried its best to lower the number of the experimental animals to be used in the proposed experiment.
“Following the US CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] advice, we would have used between 150 and 180 mice for the first stage of the experiment and 42 beagles for the second stage, but we found ways to reduce the numbers to about 100 mice and 14 beagles,” Tseng said.