Monday, November 17, 2014

Animal Scientists Debate and Discuss Animal Use Ethics

Animal scientists’ debate on ethical animal use

Anthony SB Thanasayan

Anthony SB Thanasayan is a wheelchair user who is powered by his service dogs who help him stay on top of life. He is president of Malaysia's first and only animal-assisted therapy society called Petpositive.
More than 320 delegates from as many as 22 countries participated at the Asian Federation of Laboratory Animal Science Associations' (Aflas) Congress last Monday.
The two-day event which was attended by nations across the Asian, American and European continents – including Oceania – was held at a leading hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
The occasion was the sixth of its kind which has taken place every two years since its inception in early 2000 – with 10 laboratory animal science associations from 10 member countries.
The ten nations are China, Chinese Taipei, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. 
In addition to promoting technical and education cooperation in the field of laboratory animal science, animal welfare is a chief concern for Aflas.
The 2014 Aflas Congress was officiated by Datuk Dr Mohamad Azmie b Zakaria, the director-general (DG) of the Department of Veterinary Services Malaysia. In his plenary speech, the DG spoke about the regulatory control of animal use in Malaysia.
Other topics were delivered by eminent authorities in their respective fields from animal welfare to various specialists in animal experimentations.
One of the key highlights was a paper from Japan by the Japanese Society for Alternatives to Animal Experiments.
They stressed that an international agreement of what is known as "the three Rs" – replacement, reduction and refinement – in animal use is something all nations cannot do without.
Speakers from the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation for Laboratory Animal Care International covered topics stressing on how vital proper regulation of animal use is in each country in order to bring about good animal welfare practices and good science.
Other plenary sessions focused on how to make meaningful translations of cancer research results from animals to humans, and the necessity of “good laboratory practice" (GLP) in producing sound research.
Speaking to me after the congress, organising chairman and local veterinarian Dr Goh Yong Meng said that based on feedback received from the participants, the congress had mostly been an enlightening experience for everyone.
"It became very evident that as scientists, we have to talk about and keep our focus on the scientific facts and legislation of animal welfare – rather than on the emotionally-driven romantic ideals in animal use," said Dr Goh, who also sits in the committee of the Laboratory Animal Science Association of Malaysia.
"We hope that the recently concluded Aflas Congress 2014 will serve as a strong catalyst not only to drive sound animal research in our country and region; but more importantly, to highlight the urgency for the Animal Welfare Act to be legislated in the near future in Malaysia.”
Dr Goh, who is also an associate professor in a local university, went on to explain that the Aflas congress came about in response to the 1975 book by the Australian philosopher, Peter Singer called, "Animal Liberation". The book challenges the rights of human beings to use animals for any purpose.
That idea grew into the founding philosophical principle of animal liberation movements that were against the use of animals in experiments, integrating principles from an earlier book by British researchers William Russell and Rex Burch in 1959 called, "The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique".
According to Dr Goh, the book advocated the "three Rs" in animal experimentation.
This approach, he said, enabled animal welfare advocates and researchers to find, and agree on a common solution towards responsible animal use in advancing research.
"As a result, the membership of laypersons and/or animal welfare advocates in Institutional Animal Care And Use Committees (IACUC) – a special group officially set up in research/teaching institutions globally – is a common sight which was made mandatory since 1980 in Malaysia.
"The outcome has been mutually beneficial, as this movement moderates working together towards finding scientifically valid alternatives to animal use, to safe guarding animal welfare and to ensure responsible use of animals."
Citing the Ebola scourge across the globe and a possible vaccine for dengue in the home-front, Dr Goh, who is also a researcher in finding a cure for diabetes among human beings, said that for the first time scientists are being "forced to consider using drugs (on humans) that are still in a development or experimental stage.
"The main reason why these drugs and vaccines are delayed is because the regulating authorities want to ensure that the products' risks on humans is at its minimum.
"Currently, the best approach is to conduct safety testing which almost certainly uses animal models which is inevitable and mandatory for most regulating agencies in the world, such as the US Food and Drug Administration and the national Pharmaceutical Control Bureau in Malaysia.
"While the debate is still on the necessity, morality and validity of animal testing, every medicinal product and medical devices that we use today would have undergone some degree of testing, in non-human species, prior to human clinical trials.
"Therefore responsible animal use is a critical aim in regulating animal use in institutions and organisations and institutions with active animal model studies are required to set up an IACUC.
"Malaysia's Animal Welfare Bill (scheduled to come out early next year) is currently drafting a law to regulate animal studies in research and development.
"This is necessary not only to promote the growth of biotechnology-based knowledge economy in the country, but also to safeguard the nation from being used as an outsourcing ground for animal tests that cannot be performed, or even deemed excessive in developed countries," said Dr Goh. – November 17, 2014.  
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.
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