In early May, the Beijing Municipal Legal Affairs Office announced that it had drafted legislation on animal welfare. The news aroused hot debate, but the draft was withdrawn from consideration on May 17. The overriding opinion was that it was impractical and premature.
However, a chapter on animal welfare has been added into the Regulations on the Management of Experimental Animals, which will be promulgated this year. Although the chapter is brief -- just 200 Chinese characters -- it is the first time in China that animal welfare is to be regulated. It is, says He Zhengming, vice secretary-general of the China Experimental Animals Society, "a big step towards the legislation of animal welfare." He was one of the people responsible for drafting the new chapter.
The Guangzhou Daily recently talked with He about the regulation and the concept of animal welfare in general.
Guangzhou Daily: What does "animal welfare" mean?
He Zhengming: Western nations began to deal with the issue of animal welfare fairly early on. In 1822, the first related law in the world was enacted in Ireland. The West has quite a complete animal welfare system, from organizations to regulations. Internationally accepted standards categorize animals as domestic, experimental, working, recreational, pet and wild animals. Animal welfare is generally understood to include keeping animals free from starvation, pain, terror and sadness and allowing them to live comfortably and express their natural instincts freely.
The purpose of animal welfare protection in Western countries is different from that in China. Western countries' stance focuses entirely on the animals, emphasizing respect for animals' rights and equality between humans and animals. They insist that human beings' rights do not entitle them to force animals to serve them. I think it's a little bit extreme.
GD: Why should China legislate animal welfare?
HZ: China has few existing laws and regulations concerning animal protection. It lacks a specific, complete, comprehensive law dealing with this area. The sphere of animal protection is also small. As a result, Chinese people don't have clear or complete understanding of how to protect animals or the significance of the issue.
Animal welfare is no longer just a conceptual issue. It is the inevitable result of social and economic development at a certain stage, and touches on many aspects of society and the economy. The European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia all have laws concerning animal welfare, and there are also articles concerning animal welfare in the WTO rules. The European Parliament and European Council will prohibit cosmetics toxicity and anaphylaxis experiments on animals among their member nations from 2009. Members will also be forbidden to import or sell cosmetics from areas that violate that prohibition. It is a typical application of technical international trade barriers.
GD: The Beijing municipal government finally suspended the draft on animal welfare because experts thought it is too early to legislate it. What is your opinion on the timing?
HZ: The suitability of legislating animal welfare in China under the current national conditions has really triggered hot debate. I think it is early to enact a special law on animal welfare. The possibility of the masses accepting the concept in general is a problem. Most people have no awareness of it. It will take a long time for them to accept it.
The level of economic development is another problem. For instance, according to international rules on animal welfare, living space for each animal is a factor that must be considered when raising animals. However, in China, when edible animals such as pigs, cattle, and sheep are raised on farms, we consider mainly how to reduce costs and increase profits. As another example, animal welfare rules say toys and space should be provided for monkeys used in laboratories because of the habits of the animal. Conditions in Chinese laboratories are relatively poor, with limited space. Emphasizing animal welfare will increase the maintenance, research and protection costs.
GD: What principles were applied in drafting the chapter on animal welfare for the regulation?
HZ: The chapter concerning animal welfare will clearly define the status of experimental animals. There will be laws and rules to follow when dealing with experimental animals' welfare in the future. It describes what people are permitted to do and how they are to do it, as well as what they are prohibited from doing when conducting scientific experiments on animals.
The newly added chapter of animal welfare, based on the principle of promoting scientific development, emphasizes trying to reduce the number of animals used in experiments, improving the animals' environment and reducing the animals' pain. In practical application, the animals should be given pain-relieving drugs during experiments, and should be euthanized afterward.
GD: Precisely what areas does the regulation cover?
HZ: There are four articles in the new chapter, not quite 200 characters. But drafting it took a whole year. The chapter states what animal welfare is, from a scientific angle: experimental animal welfare involves reproduction, raising, transportation and utilization of experimental animals. Animal experiments are a sensitive issue in animal welfare.
However, the 200-character chapter contains a limited number of specific articles that cannot practically cover all possible circumstances. Therefore, it will necessary to develop practical rules and regulations for implementation, or directive principles that can meet the requirements of work with experimental animals, push scientific development and follow international practice.
Animal protection laws, appeals and lobbying by animal protection organizations, and particularly in-depth research on animal experiments have led to apparent improvements in experimental-animal welfare in developed countries. For example, a licensing system was introduced in animal experimentation; goals, animals and lab conditions are under scrutiny; living conditions for experimental animals have been improved; and the physical and psychological health of animals and their biological features are attended to and their quality of life enhanced.
(China.org.cn translated by Zhang Tingting, June 4, 2004)