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Speech: Primate Imports Legislation

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 22 Nov 2012

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (11:54): I move:

That the following bill be introduced: A Bill for an Act to amend the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and for related purposes—Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2012.

Question agreed to.

Senator RHIANNON: I present the bill and move:

That this bill may proceed without formalities and be now read a first time.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a first time.

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (11:55): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

Senator RHIANNON: I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

This bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2012 amends the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 to disallow the import into Australia of live primates for the purposes of research.

The bill does not ban the use of primates for research per se - which is a separate issue that requires rigorous examination. There are three government funded facilities in Australia that breed primates for research. Permits for the importation of live primates have been neither sought by these facilities, nor issued since 2009.

Nor does the bill provide a blanket ban on the importation of primates for other purposes such as zoos.

This bill thus formalises current practice whereby primates have not been imported for research purposes to Australia for many years

It also ensures Australia does not participate in the unethical trade of wild-caught primates used in experimentation for the research industry.

Australia is signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which commits to ensuring international trade in flora and fauna does not threaten their survival. All non-human primates are listed as CITES specimens, and as such wild-caught animals may not normally be traded.

Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council's (NHMRC) policy on non-human primates for scientific purposes also states that "whenever possible investigators obtain non-human primates from National Breeding Centres".

The global wildlife trade is recognised as one of the biggest threats to biodiversity conservation, and the major trade in nonhuman primates - as live, as body parts or as meat - presents a significant risk to their conservation in the wild.

The illegal and unsustainable trade in primates is "increasingly recognised as an urgent threat to conservation" and is described as a "conservation crisis". One of the main sources of nonhuman primates to meet global demand is Southeast Asia. Since the 1970s Indonesia has been a major exporter of monkeys.

When India and then Bangladesh banned primate exports in the late 1970s, Southeast Asia became "a major hub of wildlife trade". With its concurrent highest rate of tropical deforestation on the planet, the loss of its biodiversity is described as "an impending disaster".

The list of threats causing decimation of the world's wild primates is a long and bleak litany which includes the trade in monkeys to supply the booming biomedical and pharmaceutical research industry.

Around the world an estimated 100,000 to 200,000, nonhuman primates, or monkeys, are used in experiments every year, and tens upon tens of thousands of monkeys are traded around the world to meet the research industry demand. According to US Department of Agriculture figures, in the US alone the use of nonhuman primates in experiments rose from 57,518 in 2000 to 71,317 in 2010.

There is considerable clinical evidence that much animal-based research correlates poorly with the human response. This is confirmed by scientific reviews that show correlations between the results of animal experimentation and human outcomes is negligible, expensive and unnecessary. Most animal experiments do not translate to clinical trials, are not validated, minimally cited, and use methodologies that render findings as unreliable.

For example, Bailey's 2005 scientific critical review on research using animals came to the conclusion such findings "have little or no predictive value or application to human medicine."

Matthews' 2008 paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine points out that much of the claimed value of animal research is anecdotal rather than quantitative and that there are "relatively few quantitative studies of the predictive abilities of animal models". Where such studies do exist in toxicity testing, "the data provided by these studies is typically incomplete, ambiguous, and subjected to inadequate or incorrect analysis." However "the evidential weight of animals models that emerge are at best inconclusive, and sometimes wholly misleading."

The Medical Research Modernization Committee, a health advocacy organisation comprised of medical professionals and scientists, found in their 2006 critical review that "human data has historically been interpreted in light of laboratory data derived from nonhuman animals. This has resulted in unfortunate medical consequences."

The 2006 autoimmune, multiple scleroses and leukaemia drug trial at Britain's Northwick Park hospital where 6 young men suffered multiple organ failure after taking a new drug shown to be safe at a 500 times greater dosage in monkeys, is one such example.

In 2002, the House of Lords Select Committee on Animals in Scientific Procedures stated "the formulaic use of two species in safety testing is not a scientifically justifiable practice, but rather an acknowledgement of the problem of species differences in extrapolating the results of animal tests to predict effects in humans." The Committee also concluded "that the effectiveness and reliability of animal tests is unproven" and that "the reliability and relevance of all existing animal tests should be reviewed as a matter of urgency."

A 2004 UK survey by Europeans for Medical Progress found 82% of general practitioners "were concerned that animal data can be misleading when applied to humans."

Safer Medicines, a British patient safety organisation of doctors and scientists articulates the growing questions from a safety perspective: "whether animal testing, today, is more harmful than helpful to public health and safety" with "alarming evidence that animal tests fail to protect us" in areas from strokes, to AIDS, cancer, autoimmune diseases and more.

Knight's 2007 review on animal experiments found published experiments on chimpanzees, as the species most closely related to human primates, have been shown to generate data of "questionable value" and to make insignificant contributions to cited research - with in vitro studies, human clinical and epidemiological studies, molecular assays and methods, and genomic studies contributing most to the development of combating human diseases.

Not surprisingly, this is because chimpanzees' phenotype, that is their morphology and biochemistry, is markedly different to humans.

Yet with the progressive banning of testing on chimpanzees around the world, the research industry has turned to smaller nonhuman primates that are even more removed from the human phenome. This is despite cheaper and more scientifically reliable and valid methodologies and technologies already existing and being used by more and more laboratories around the world.

The Greens urge government, regulators and research institutions to practice these sophisticated and humane research methods. These include genomics, proteomics, nanotechnology, phage display, microdosing, microfluidic chips, epidemiology, autopsies, computer modelling deducing toxicity based on chemical structure of compounds, more thorough world research databases, and tissue and cell in vitro research such as the Ames Test.

Australia has not permitted the import of live nonhuman primates for research since 2009.

From 2000 until 2009 the CITES database records Australia permitted the live import of 331 Pig-tailed macaques from Indonesia for research. These are listed as Vulnerable to extinction on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

In the same period Australia also permitted the live import of 71 Owl monkeys for research "breeding purposes". This species is also listed on the IUCN red list as "although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival." The IUCN also notes concern that large numbers of these South American species are used in research, and that the issue of wild-caught Owl monkeys "should be monitored to understand the effect on populations."

During 2000-2009 250 long-tailed macaques were also imported into Australia for research purposes. These monkeys are noted on the IUCN red list as suffering declining populations, and a CITES meeting in 2011 expressed as "imperative" a reassessment of the species was needed, given the trapping, laundering and largely illegal trade of massive numbers of wild caught long-tail macaques to support the pharmaceutical industry and its researchers

The European Commission states that the majority of Asian (Old World) monkeys traded for the global research are not bred in western facilities but are born to wild-caught captive monkeys in Asian facilities. The IUCN Primate Specialist Group's Ardith Eudey described these as "lucrative operations ... [that] may serve to 'launder' wild-caught monkeys" to sell as captive-bred to the research industry, and which "appear[s] to have resulted in their disappearance even from legally protected areas".

More than half of the 70 species of primates in Southeast Asia are found in Indonesia, which "features prominently on the list of source countries for both domestic and international trade," and it is from here Australia sourced most of its primates for research until the last importation in 2009.

In 2009, a BUAV (British Union Against Vivisection) undercover investigation confirmed the IUCN's and other scientists' concerns, revealing Indonesia's "official" ban on the export of wild-caught primates for research (in line with its CITES obligations) is a farce.

Monkeys were shown suffering high levels of cruelty during their capture, confinement and transportation, with an endpoint destination of experimentation in the world's laboratories.

BUAV also found Indonesian wild-caught monkeys are coded as "captive-bred". Monkeys wild-living on islands, such as Australia's source island - Tinjil Island - are also coded as "captive-bred" because the whole island is described as a "breeding facility".

The investigation also revealed monkeys trapped in inhumane conditions by villagers who view them as pests and ready income. Baby monkeys are taken from their trapped parents who were often killed rather than being released back into the wild. Mother monkeys are sometimes shot with air rifles forcing them to flee and drop their infants. Monkeys are chased by dogs to be entangled in nets or ropes which often strangled the trapped terrified animals.

The monkeys, including the infants, are then kept in filthy, crowded and barren concrete pens with metal grid floors lacking fresh air or sunlight, many with no access to water or food. In one primate breeding and supply facility infants were kept in small empty pens with smooth walls, no perches and only a wire ceiling, from which the scores of babies would hang frightened in the absence of safe shelter.

Monkeys are then transported around the world, sometimes kept in transit for days, packed into crates too small to stand up in, suffering the noise, inadequate ventilation and extreme temperature fluctuations. If there are transport delays, there is often insufficient food and water.

One UK primate import company alone had a mortality rate of nearly 19% of its delivered monkeys, all from Indonesia, during 1988-1991.

In the 2001 May Budget estimates, it was stated that the three Australian primate breeding facilities were established, among other reasons: "to remove the necessity to import these animals into Australia; and to protect these species in the wild by breeding them in captive colonies"

This bill if passed, would confirm in law that Australia does not support the cruel and inhumane primate trade for experimentation and that Australia will not participate in practices leading to the extinction of primates in the wild.

This is a small but important step.

The Greens support the global scientific 3R principle for the use of animals in research - replacement, refinement and reduction. We support the call by leading scientific researchers and medics, and by important organisations such as Humane Research Australia, for legislators and regulators to support a more methodologically sound and effective science that transitions away from the 19th century practice of animal experimentation to the more sophisticated and credible modern methods of biomedical research already being used with more accuracy and success today.

I commend the bill to the Senate.

Senator RHIANNON: I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.



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