Animal Research In China
As advocates celebrate victories for the banning of different animal experimentation practices here in the U.S. and in Europe, the globalization and outsourcing of experimentation is an ever more important aspect we need to reckon with. This paper covers the major laws governing laboratory animal testing in China, as well as some problems to come out of the industry.
Overall, the author finds that animal welfare regulations are wanting in China, and laws regarding laboratory animal welfare are even farther behind. Transparency in this sector is also substantially lower than it is in the West, which is partially why many Western universities and companies are increasingly relying on both Chinese labs and Chinese-bred animals. Each year, Chinese laboratories use 12-13 million animals in research, and China exports 40,000 laboratory primates annually. China is, in fact, the majority supplier of nonhuman primates (mainly macaque monkeys) to U.S. laboratories, and many of those monkeys come from countries with even worse levels of regulation, such as Laos. Given the immense size of the animal testing industry in China, concerns over welfare and ethics cannot be brushed aside.
The two main laws governing animal testing in China are the Regulations for the Administration of Laboratory Animals, passed in 1988, and the Guidelines for the Humane Treatment of Laboratory Animals, passed in 2006. The 1988 law defines laboratory animals as those who are born and bred for testing; it does not ban using other animals in labs, nor does it provide any guidelines for using those animals. Furthermore, while it defines certain welfare thresholds that should be met, it does not provide any concrete enforcement or punitive mechanisms for laboratories that break them, offering only suggestions.
The 2006 law does specifically refer to animal welfare and defines the requirements for laboratory animals: sufficient food and water, protection from unnecessary harm, and the ability to perform natural behaviors. It also defines the penalties for individual and repeat offenses. However, abuse of laboratory animals is not considered a criminal offense under Chinese law, and there are no records of the outlined punishments ever being meted out, despite Chinese scientists’ admissions that the rules are frequently broken.
All of this is to say the actual situation regarding Chinese laboratory animal welfare is largely unknown. Researchers did a rudimentary study in which they searched a Chinese academic database for the term “laboratory animal welfare” in the subject line. 65 papers were found, most of which simply discussed the concept rather than actual empirical findings. Most of the papers did acknowledge that China lags behind the West in terms of animal welfare. In one study, only 25% of surveyed Chinese medical students actually knew that laboratory animal welfare was an important concept. In another, 70% claimed to know of animal abuses occurring in laboratories, and 88% admitted to either negligently causing harm themselves, or knowing someone who did.
Transparency in the Chinese laboratory animal industry is virtually nonexistent, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. However, pressure can be put on Western institutions that use Chinese labs for their own research, or that use animals imported from China. Animal testing is unlikely to stop being used for medical and scientific research anytime soon, but animal advocates can at least lobby for testing to be transparent and done in countries with strong animal welfare laws. China, for now, does not meet that threshold. While it’s difficult for consumer boycotts to directly impact scientific research, boycotts and awareness campaigns surrounding the Western universities and companies paying for this research may be effective.