China has released its first national standards governing the treatment of laboratory animals, and scientists hope the guidelines will improve both conditions for animals and China’s prospects for international research collaborations.
The draft standards were posted last week for public comment and could be implemented by the end of this year. They cover such topics as euthanasia, pain management, transport, and housing. The standards also set requirements for breeding facilities and personnel training. Chinese scientists have said the lack of national regulations has stymied some international collaborations because scientists in other countries can be reluctant to engage in research involving animals if they are not covered by humane protections. In addition, there is growing domestic opposition to the mistreatment of lab animals because of recently documented incidents of abuse.
The new standards are based on international best practices, says Qin Chuan, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences’s Institute of Laboratory Animal Sciences (ILAS) in Beijing. Though China has not had national standards previously, she says, most provinces certify that Chinese labs meet what are essentially globally accepted practices. Qin said national standards are needed bring all labs into line with what is best for the animals.
In 2014, China abolished a requirement that domestic cosmetic companies test their products on animals in order to gain approval for sale in the Chinese market. Both animal rights campaigners and consumers had scorned the old regulation, though there remains some confusion on how the current requirements apply to international producers.
China’s government has been under increasing pressure to go beyond cosmetics with national standards to cover a large and growing field. According to ILAS, China uses roughly 20 million animals—mostly mice, but also large numbers of dogs, rabbits, and nonhuman primates—each year in research. More than 300,000 people work in the lab animal industry in China.
The draft was made public during a conference held in China with Chinese lab animal research groups and the U.K. National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) in London. “It's encouraging that the 3Rs are right at the forefront of scientific discussions on animal use in research in China,” Mark Prescott, NC3Rs head of research management and policy, said in a statement. He added that for developing scientific powerhouses like China the challenge is to foster awareness of and action on lab animal issues quickly enough to match the growing research investment.