Monday, May 30, 2016


2016 is the Chinese year of the monkey which seems darkly appropriate due to the fact that China will, in the next few years, be leading the world in medical research using non-human primates and is soon expected to launch a major brain project to take advantage of this animal resource. The Generalist was alerted to this situation by an article entitled 'Monkey Kingdom' by David Cyranoski and an accompanying editorial comment in a recent issue of the journal Nature

Cyranoski begins his piece by journeying to the Yunnan Key Laboratory of Primate Research, located an hour's drive out of the city of Kunming in Yunnan province in south-western China Opened in 2011 it has become 'a Mecca for cutting-edge primate research'. 
 Inside the gated compound is a quiet, idyllic campus; a series of grey, cement animal houses stack up on the lush hillside, each with a clear plastic roof to let in the light...its inhabitants are some 1,500 monkeys, all bred for research.
 These 'gene-edited monkeys' are being used for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy, autism and Parkinson's Disease. The dream of Ji Weizhi, the director at Yunnan,  is “to have an animal like a tool” for biomedical discovery.

 Elsewhere in China, over the last decade a network of hi-tech primate facilities have been built in Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Suzhou and Guangzhou.

In 2011, 'primate disease models' was adopted as a national  'big science' development scheme and, three years later, 25m yuan ($3.9m) of funding was allocated to the Kunming Institute of Zoology to enable it's monkey facility to double its population of cynomolgus monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) and rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to 5,000. Cyranoski reports:

'Zhao Xudong, who runs the primate-research facility, says that the plan is to “set it up like a hospital, with separate departments for surgery, genetics and imaging”, and a conveyor belt to move monkeys between departments.'

The Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai also has plans to expand, increasing its population of 600 Old World monkeys to 800 in 2017 and  its 300-strong marmoset colony.

Macaques are the predominant monkeys used for medical experimentation in China. Although wild populations  have declined, in the period from 2004-2013, the number of macaque breeders trebled to 34, resulting in an increase from 9,868 to 35,385 macaques available. The farming of marmosets, another monkey popular with researchers, has also risen. 

“Governments and politicians don't see this, but we face a huge risk,China will become the place where all therapeutic strategies will have to be validated. Do we want that? Or do we want to stay in control?”
 - Erwan Bezard, director of the Institute of Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Bordeaux in France, has already set up Motac, his own primate-research company in Beijing.

Over past decades, Europe and the US have led the way in the use of primates for neurological research into brain functions and diseases, because of their similarity to humans. The dramatic rise in cases of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's  and other degenerative brain conditions has increased demand.

However, in the West,  primate research is strictly controlled by a matrix of regulations, is very expensive and highly controversial. One geneticist tells  Cyranoski that it costs $6,000 to buy a monkey in the US and $20 per day to keep it; in China are those same costs are $1,000 and $5 per day.

As a result, Nature claims that, in Europe, the number of monkeys used in medical research has declined by 28% between 2008-2011. 

 Nature's editorial claims that 'the German federal government, like most European governments...  has no strategy for the primate research and testing that will be needed to move many candidate therapies into the clinic...[because] primate under pressure from campaigners and politicians.'

The Netherlands voted [in March 2016] 'to revisit a 2013 parliamentary question on whether and, if so, how the country could end primate research within a decade'.

In the US, Harvard Medical School closed its primate facility in May 2015 for 'strategic' reasons. 

[According to a report by David Grimm in the  magazine Science, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) is to convene a workshop this summer to review the ethical policies and procedures surrounding work on monkeys, baboons, and related animals. This follows on from NIH’s decision to end controversial monkey experiments at one of its labs and the termination of its support for invasive research on chimpanzees.]

As a result, many Western scientists are now concerned by the near monopoly China may soon have in using primates for disease research and drug testing. One likes the situation to CERN: scientists from all over the world will have to travel there to take advantage not only of the ample supply of primates but also of advanced imaging tools, genetic engineering and editing techniques. These, combined with new reproductive technologies, says Cyranoski, are 'making monkeys a more efficient experimental tool.'

The Nature editorial raises the fact that:
'Chinese researchers’ freedom from animal-rights pressures will probably continue for the foreseeable future, but it is not a given. To maintain that support, and to make it easier for researchers elsewhere to form collaborations, they will have to show that they are abiding by principles that guide the international scientific community — that monkeys should be used only when necessary and in as small a number as possible.
'...government agencies must also consider the views of society at large, which, as our understanding of monkeys’ capabilities and commonalities with humans grows, is ever more strongly against research on primates. This is a valid perspective and needs to be balanced with the societal benefits that can be gained only through primate research.'

'...the immunity that China's primate researchers have had to animal-rights activism could start to erode, warns Deborah Cao...People are starting to use Chinese social media sites to voice outrage at the abuse of animals, Cao says.'

The Generalist has been in correspondence with the leading authority on animal law and animal rights in China is Professor Deborah Cao, a linguist and legal scholar at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. Amongst her many books are two works in Chinese -  'Animals are Not Things' and While The Dog Gently Weeps'  - and this excellent book in English 'Animals In China', published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015. She was named one of the top 200 most influential blog writers in China in 2012.

Before going on to examine the book as a whole, there's interesting material here on the medical use of non-human primates and other lab animals..


According to statistics from the government's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) about 12 million animals are used for scientific purposes in China each year, including mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs and primates. Cao writes:
 'Regulatory regimes and guidance for the humane treatment off animals used in research exists, but in a grey area or a black hole from which little information escapes to the public'
Cao suggests that there is a two-tier system: experiments with animals whose results they want to get published in international journals and publications. This is the motivation to ensure these are carried out within a legal framework. But, says Cao, there is a second level of 'ordinary animals' which are used for teaching and research purposes and they have no legal protection under the existing law. The number of these are not recorded.

The first official document and policy in China that uses the term 'animal welfare' is MOST's 'Guidelines for the Human Treatment of Laboratory Animals'. (2006). Amongst other things these define what constitutes animal abuse and the penalties for non-compliance. There is 'little information available', says Cao, as to whether these rules are enforced, nationally or locally. 

According to a report in the China Daily'  a Chinese official 'found it hard to believe that no one has ever breached the rules but that 'no facilities have been punished for animal welfare and ethics violations.' Interestingly the official also reportedly said 'that because of huge pressure from animal rights groups, more foreign companies have been shifting their animal research into China. He says: 'China would never become a haven for inappropriate animal experiments in the name of science.'

 Cao quotes one article by a leading scholar working in the area of animal research in China [Jin, Meilei Chinese Bulletin of Life Sciences. 2012] who notes:
'that there is a lack of management rules for cases of cruel killing of laboratory animals in China; animal carers and laboratory technical staff can cruelly kill laboratory animals wilfully with impunity. This scientist also says that violations of laboratory animal ethics occur; acts such as removing animals' eyeballs to take blood samples and breach of euthanasia requirements are still commonplace; there are also emotional conflicts between laboratory animal carers and scientists, with the former forming emotional bonds with animals they raise and with scientists ending their lives.'

Li Feng's photo of caged monkeys in a med lab in Hubei province was the winner in the Animal Category of National Geographic's 2007 Best Global Photos. Cao writes:
The award-winning photos of a photojournalist Li Feng accidentally revealed laboratory primates living in conditions that violated China's regulations. It turned out that the laboratory where the primates lived and the photos were taken in Yichang City, Hubei Province, was an unlicensed and thus illegal laboratory. Before the photos were taken and published, no one had looked into the facility. There was no public report that the facility was penalized after the disclosure that it was operating outside the law although the prize-winning photos were widely publicized and reported. According to Chinese media reports, more than 30 Chinese institutions are now accredited by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC).'
 Cao reports that there has been an increase in research institutions and pharmaceutical companies from around the world who are not only outsourcing their animal testing to China but are also buying laboratory animals from China at a fraction of the cost charged by Western suppliers.
  • More than half of  the laboratory primates bred in China are exported overseas. Crab-eating macaques, long-tailed macaques and rhesus macaques are the main species of laboratory primates bred and used in China. 
  • China is the leading supplier of primates to the USA, exporting more than 10,000 labora-tory monkeys in 2013, or 56 per cent of the total. The cost of raising a monkey in China is about half that in the USA.
  • In 2007, Shanghai built a laboratory animal production base, the biggest in China, as a public platform for laboratory animal services, and a company, SLAG Laboratory Animals Shanghai, is said to have produced 1.1 million laboratory animals in 2007, an eightfold increase over the previous decade.
  • In the mid-1990s, China exported about 3,000 laboratory primates each year. The figure has since risen to over 30,000 a year, making China the biggest country in the world for laboratory primate export.
  •  There are around 35 government-approved companies in China that breed laboratory primates. According to the SFA, the number of laboratory primates for use and sale in China each year is close to 40,000. 

'A victory for animal advocacy was recorded in 2014. China Southern Airlines, a state-owned carrier, decided to stop transporting live primates for experiments on all its flights. An international animal NGO, PETA, campaigned against international airlines' transporting live and other primates for research.
'In 2013, PETA purchased shares of China Southern Airlines so that its representatives could attend shareholder meetings and lobby company executives, but the airline announced its policy change before PETA initiated action.
'Now no Chinese airlines are shipping primates to laboratories overseas. due to the halt by many commercial airlines to shipping laboratory animals, Western research facilities and pharmaceutical companies increasingly rely on charter flights.'

Bear bile protest roars into Beijing

Protesters of bear bile extraction staged a demonstration dressed in furry costumes in downtown Beijing, March 24, 2012. Chinese bear bile producer Guizhentang has been under fire for in recent weeks since it was revealed it planned to expand its bile production. The company's last IPO attempt in February 2011 floundered amid fierce public opposition. Bear bile has been used as an ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to cure eye and liver ailments for nearly 3,000 years. [Photo/CFP] 

'I was one of the oblivious Chinese; born, bred and educated in China many years ago, until an American family member asked me to contemplate the pain that animals might have experienced in Chinese cooking. Animal pain is everywhere in Chinese daily life but most choose not to see. However, this is starting to change.


'Chinese love animals - they love them to death, literally. They love to eat them, to kill them, to taker them in medicine, to wear them, to watch them in entertainment, to make an exquisite art form of them in ivory and other carvings. In the process, they drive some animal species to extinction or to its brink. They also cause the living ones extreme pain and suffering before eating them. Unfortunately this is part of Chinese culture, an otherwise great human civilisation, a country with the longest continuous history on earth.
 These powerful statements by Deboran Cao form part of the introduction to her valuable book that, for the first time, gives readers and activists in the West, a powerful overview. 

She begins with 'Happy Fish and Royal Workers; Animals in Traditional Chinese Philosophy and Law'. Every Chinese person has an animal zodiac sign and the Chinese language is full of idioms and sayings with animals. In the Western world, we believe we are separate from nature and superior to the animals. In Chinese philosophy,  there are no distinctions between human and animal; both are united with all living things in one cosmic pattern. Yet animals are serviceable for human needs and enterprises.

Chapters 3 and 4 cover Wildlife Law and Wildlife Crimes. Due to China's insatiable greed for elephant and rhino body parts, both species face extinction.

Chapter 5 is hard reading. In China there is no national law protecting domestic animals against cruelty, the only major country in the world today that does not have such laws.
It is well known that there is a trade in cat and dog meat. What is new to contemporary China is is the word 'pet' and the practice of keeping companion animals. In 2007 there were an estimated 11 billion pets in China, mostly birds, fish and reptiles. One more recent estimate is that there are 27 million pet dogs and 11 million pet cats.

In the chapter Working Animals, as well as the lab animals already discussed, Cao covers wildlife in Zoos and Circuses, and the fur industry - China is now the world's leading supplier of furs and fur garments.

In many ways the most interesting chapter of all is 'Chinese Animal Lib: An Emerging Social Movement.' Cao writes:

'China is undergoing a movement of an entirely different kind - an animal liberation movement...This emerging moral awakening and personal participation in helping and caring for animals in the last few years can be gauged in a number of ways [which she lists].
'Almost all of these [actions] 'are through animal NGOs, homeless animal rescue shelters and private individual volunteers, and all are recent phenomena, still very new to most Chinese and still controversial. Nevertheless, the Chinese 'animal liberation movement' or ' animal protection movement' is a movement for the better. Unlike all previous movements and campaigns in modern Chinese history, it is apolitical...This marks a fundamental difference between this movement and all other movements and campaigns in contemporary China.'
'In short, the animal protection movement in China is still in its infancy. as the great social reformer John Stuart Mill wrote, social movement normally experience three stages: ridicule, discussion and adoption. In China, the animal protection movement is still in the initial stage.'

An important book for our times.


Professor Cao was also the co-editor with Steven White of this other recently published book. Here is an extract from the introduction:
'In our increasingly interconnected and wired world, some of the biggest global stars have been nonhuman animals. On blogs, on Facebook and all around the Internet, claws and clicks go hand in hand or paw in paw, with the furry claiming cyberspace.
'In 2014, one of the most emailed stories on the New York Times website was about the biology of cats. According to media reports, there has been a sharp rise in the proportion of American dog and cat owners with provisions in their wills for their pets, with nearly one in ten now making such arrangements. One of the most fervently embraced documentaries of 2013 was 'Blackfish', shown over and over on CNN. And these are not just "feel good" stories about cute and cuddly animals. They are about animal suffering, animal science, animal intelligence and cognition, animal behaviour and social life, animal welfare in law, and above all, animal dignity, rights and justice...

'These topics are not academic jargon but increasingly entering the popular cyber parlance. In the meantime, apart from stories and images of animals going viral in traditional and social media around the world, significant legal battles are being fought on behalf of animals, for instance in the International Court of Justice in the Hague and in the courtrooms of New York. At the end of 2013, a team of lawyers were filing writs of habeus corpus in New York on behalf of four captive chimpanzees, as part of the Nonhuman Rights Project. At the other end of the world, in Australia, a group of animal lawyers, scientist and scholars were gathering to discuss animal law and animal welfare, the result of which is this edited book...

'The impetus for the symposium...derives from a sobering reality: despite the developments in animal protection law over the last 200 years and, in particular, the developments in the legal front over the three decades, animal cruelty is not decreasing but increasing world-wide. We are witnessing the globalisation of animal cruelty...

'Animal cruelty is increasing in terms of scale and in more varied forms, for both domestic animals and, increasingly, for wildlife. Factory farming, which originated in the West, has now been introduced to developing countries and is expanding rapidly; wildlife is being used and abused for various kinds of human consumption on an unprecedented scale, especially in Asia, and we are facing the real possibility that African elephants and rhinos may become extinct in the next decade; indiscriminate killing of different species of animals occurs every so often on a massive scale due to health scares and panic fuelled by a fear of the spread of disease... In an age of globalisation, a global solution through international cooperation and communication of animal matters is essential to deal with animal cruelty.'

 The first section of this multi-author book focuses on developments in animal law and the need for an international protection treaty addressing the welfare and protection of animals.
The second part examines  animal protections laws in Australia, South Africa, Israel, Brazil and China. There is also an essay about protecting the protection of cetaceans under US law.

The editors conclude:  'If we are on the cusp of a major re-evaluation of human and nonhuman relations, if animal rights and protection are to constitute a major social justice movement of the twenty-first century, lawyers and scientists, for their part will need to be part of a cooperative, creative and committed push for change. This book is an intellectual contribution to this project.'

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