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Slipshod approvals taint Japanese animal studies

Nature volume 430, page 714 (12 August 2004) | Download Citation


Animal-rights activists expose flaws in approvals procedure


Animal-welfare campaigners have revealed irregularities in the way that animal experiments are approved in Japan.

The Tokyo-based Anti-Vivisection Action Network says one researcher was able to approve his own application for a project. Another application stated that 63 animals would be used, but failed to state what kind of animals were involved. “It's hard to tell whether anyone is really looking at these,” says Fusako Nogami, director of the network.

The findings, taken from an initial analysis of research proposals for more than 1,000 experiments approved by 19 publicly funded research organizations, were presented to the environment ministry on 4 August. The ministry, which is holding monthly meetings on animal welfare in the run-up to an expected revision of animal-protection laws next year, says the cases could be procedural errors and do not mean that animals are being maltreated.

But Nogami says that laxity in the system could obscure abuses in labs. She wants the government to establish rules like those used in Europe and North America, where laboratories that do animal research are required to register with a government-approved body. She is also pressing for enforceable laws and an external watchdog. The section of the current animal-protection law that deals with research includes neither a penalty for offenders nor a mechanism for enforcement.

Researchers who work with animals deny Nogami's claims about possible abuses, insisting that they stick to high welfare standards that are well regulated by their institutions. But the Science Council of Japan, which represents some 1,500 scientific and academic societies, recognizes that legislation needs to be tightened up. In a report issued on 15 July, the council recommended the creation of national guidelines and an external evaluation system to ensure that they are implemented.

The environment ministry is sceptical about the proposal. A spokesperson pointed out that the research section of the animal-protection law can only be changed with the agreement of the education, health and environment ministries — a tricky feat for Japan's bureaucratic government. “It would be very difficult,” says the spokesperson.

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