The Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology’s National Primate Research Center in Jeongeup City, North Jeolla province, which officially opened on November 6th, 2018, at a cost of 18,500,000,000 Korean won (approximately $16.3 million,) can accommodate up to 3,000 macaques so as to keep a large quantity of Specific Pathogen Free (SPF)—meaning the laboratory animals are guaranteed free of pathogens—primate resources. Up to now, the center has bought 1,090 primates but has stated that it would establish its own mass breeding program.
In 2017, approximately 150,000,000 animals were killed in animal experiments worldwide, 3 million of them in South Korea. Primates have been used in experiments for studies on epidemics, new drug discoveries, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and strokes for decades. For many studies, healthy primates are subjected to invasive and painful medical procedures, exposed to toxic chemicals, or infected with often fatal diseases.
However, awareness of animal experimentation has been and is increasing, and people globally are striving to ban or minimize the use of experimental animals. Less and less animal experimentation is taking place in many industries due to these efforts, most notably in the cosmetics industry.
There is also a growing global trend to ban experiments specifically on primates. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) stopped providing financial support for chimpanzees used for biomedical experiments in 2015. The European Union banned experimentations on great apes in 2013. Austria, Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have also banned experimentations on great apes. However, South Korea has run counter to this trend and built the National Primate Research Center to breed and keep a great number of primates for experimentation under the control of the Korean government.
The pain and suffering any primates undergo is becoming ethically and morally harder to justify in light of more sophisticated gene comparison techniques and research which shows that the genetic gap between humans and non-human primates is decreasing. If primates are demonstrated to be genetically up to 99% the same as humans, and it is unethical to conduct these types of experiments on humans without their express informed consent, then it stands to reason that medical research on our non-human cousins is essentially unethical for the same rationale.
Carol Treasure, the Co-Founder, and CEO of XcellR8, an animal-free testing laboratory based in Daresbury, UK, researching the use innovative science to replace animal testing, said that “Alternative experiments developed scientifically can replace animal testing, and it can be safer. Animal testing is not a must for industry.” Test results from in-vitro testing can be at least as, and sometimes more, accurate and reliable than animal testing for some types of tests, especially in the cosmetics and chemical industries.
However, the new facility in Jeongeup City will make it easier to continue the status quo of testing on primates rather than encouraging a deeper consideration of the ethical issues of such activities and the search for, and ultimate adoption of, alternative cruelty-free methods of experimentation.
It is time for Korea to move toward animal- and cruelty-free experimentation methods via cooperation with global partners and domestic scientific research. The government needs to take note of the growing global outcry regarding, and the trend away from, animal testing and lead from the front and actively support the replacement of animal experimentation in Korean industry.
Countries banning or limiting chimpanzee research
|United States||The NIH (National Institutes of Health) announces an end to funding biomedical research on chimpanzees and that all federally-owned chimpanzees are eligible for retirement to sanctuary, 2015.|
|European Union||Law banning great ape research, 2013|
|Belgium||Law banning great ape research, 2008|
|Spain||Resolution granting great apes legal rights, 2008|
|Austria||Law banning great ape research, 2006|
|Japan||Agreement ending invasive chimpanzee research, 2006|
|Australia||Policy limiting great ape research, 2003|
|Sweden||Regulation banning great ape research, 2003|
|Netherlands||Law banning great ape research, 2002|
|New Zealand||Law banning great ape research, 2000|
|United Kingdom||Policy banning licenses for great ape research, 1997|