Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition
of Live Imports of Primates for Research) Bill 2015
On 15 October 2015, the Senate, on the recommendation of the Selection
of Bills Committee, referred the Environment Protection and Biodiversity
Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports of Primates for Research)
Bill 2015 (the bill) to the Environment and Communications Legislation
Committee for inquiry and report by 1 March 2016.
The bill is a private senator's bill introduced by Senator Lee Rhiannon
on 17 September 2015. The bill proposes to prohibit the importation of
live non-human primates (hereafter referred to as primates) for the purposes of
Senator Rhiannon had previously introduced a bill to prohibit the
importation of live primates for the purposes of research. The Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports
of Primates for Research) Bill 2012 was introduced on 22 November 2012 and lapsed
at the end of the 43rd Parliament.
Conduct of the Inquiry
In accordance with its usual practice, the committee advertised the
inquiry on its website and wrote to relevant individuals and organisations
inviting submissions by 18 January 2016.
The committee received 93 submissions. A form letter supporting the
continued importation of non-human primates for research purposes was received
from 12 academics and researchers, including many from overseas research
institutes. The committee also received correspondence in support of the bill
from 34 individuals. The list of submissions and list of those who
provided the form letter is at Appendix 1. Submissions and the form letter may
be accessed through the committee's website: www.aph.gov.au/senate_ec.
The committee held a public hearing on 5 February 2016 in Canberra.
A list of witnesses who appeared at the hearing may be found at Appendix 2.
Scope of the inquiry
The committee acknowledges the broader debate regarding the use of animals
in scientific research and notes the correspondence and submissions received on
this issue. However, the purpose of this inquiry is to examine the provisions and
effects of the bill on scientific research, rather than the broader issue of
research using animals.
The committee thanks all the organisations and individuals who assisted
the committee with the inquiry.
Consideration by other committees
When examining a bill or draft bill, the committee takes into account
any relevant comments published by the Senate Standing Committee for the
Scrutiny of Bills. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee assesses legislative
proposals against a set of accountability standards that focus on individual
rights, liberties and obligations, and on parliamentary propriety.
The bill was considered by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee in its Alert
Digest No. 11 of 2015. The committee had no comment on the bill.
Overview of the bill
The bill proposes to amend Part 13A of the Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) which regulates the
international movement of wildlife, including the importation of primates into
Australia. The amendments would make it unlawful to import into Australia
primates for the purpose of research.
Proposed subsection 303CG(5A) would prohibit the Minister from issuing a
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
(CITES) import permit if the specimen is a live primate; and the proposed
import would be for the purposes of research or for purposes that include
Proposed subsection 303EN(3A) would prohibit the Minister from issuing
an import permit for a 'regulated live specimen' if the specimen is a live
primate and the purpose is research, or for purposes that include research.
Proposed subsection 303GB(1AA) would prohibit the Minister from issuing
an 'exceptional circumstances permit' authorising the import of live primates
for research; or authorising the import of regulated live specimens that are
primates, for research.
Proposed subsection 303GC(5A) would prohibit the Minister from issuing a
permit authorising the Secretary to import a specimen, if the specimen is a
live primate; and the proposed import would be for the purposes of research or
for purposes that include research.
Senator Rhiannon, in her second reading speech, stated that:
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 on the long road to
ceasing the cruel practices of experimentation on animals.
The importation and use of primates for research in Australia
1.15 The importation of primates for research (and for
zoos) must be undertaken in accordance with CITES, the EPBC Act and transport
regulations. The use of primates for research is regulated by the National
Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
Convention on International Trade
in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora
CITES is designed to ensure that the trade in wildlife and wildlife
products is both legal and sustainable. CITES lists the species covered in
three Appendices according to the degree of protection required.
All primates are listed under CITES, with those commonly used in scientific research
listed under Appendix II. This Appendix includes species which are 'not
necessarily threatened with extinction, but for which trade must be controlled
to avoid utilisation that is incompatible with their survival'.
The export permit system, which is the 'foundation on which the whole of
the CITES system is based',
requires the CITES Management Authority in the country of export to certify
...the export will not be detrimental to the survival of that
species in the wild; the specimen was not obtained in contravention of the laws
of that State for the protection of fauna and flora; and any living specimen
will be prepared and shipped to minimise the risk of injury, damage to health
or cruel treatment.
In addition, permits for the import and export of species listed under
CITES may only be issued for scientific purposes 'where the object of the
research is to better understand or increase knowledge of the species, conserve
biodiversity, or maintain and/or improve human health'.
Environment Protection and
Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
The Australian Government implements CITES under the EPBC Act.
Live primates may not be imported to Australia without a CITES import permit
issued under the EPBC Act and an export permit issued by the CITES management
authority of the exporting country. The EPBC Act permits the import of live
CITES-listed animals for a restricted number of purposes and live primates may
only be imported for eligible non-commercial purposes such as exhibition,
education, research or conservation breeding.
The animal welfare and transport requirements are given effect under the
EPBC Act and EPBC Regulations. The Department of the Environment commented
The EPBC Regulations include welfare requirements for live
mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. The receiving facility must be
suitably equipped to manage, confine and care for the animal, including meeting
the behavioural and biological needs of the animal. To this end, an assessment
is conducted on the facility, husbandry plans, diet and staff experience of the
In making a decision to allow the import of a live animal, the decision-maker
must be satisfied that:
animal welfare requirements are met in regard to how the animal
will be transported and the facility where the animal or animals will be
confined, managed and cared for;
the applicant has demonstrated that the researcher is suitably
the relevant animal ethics authorities have approved the research
and, where possible, the primate has been sourced from a captive-breeding
the application must include a valid CITES export permit from the
Between 2000 and 2015, the Department of the Environment issued a number
of CITES import permits for live captive-bred primates for research purposes.
255 pigtail macaques from Indonesia;
46 owl monkeys from the United States of America;
59 common marmosets from Switzerland and France (one from
Switzerland and 36 from France in 2014, and 22 from France in 2015); and
ten long-tailed macaques from France.
Use of primates in research in
Australia has two primate breeding facilities currently funded by the NHMRC—the
National Non-Human Primate Breeding and Research Facility, which includes a
macaque colony and a marmoset colony, and the National Baboon Colony. These
facilities were established to 'centralise breeding, provide a consistently
high standard of animal care and management, and to allow access to non-human
primates for research'.
In addition, there is an owl monkey breeding facility in Queensland. This
facility is not funded by the NHMRC.
The NHMRC funds the use of macaques, marmosets and baboons in health and
medical research through its competitive grants funding schemes. NHMRC funded
research must comply with the Australian code for the care and use of
animals for scientific purposes (the Code) and the Policy on the care
and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes (NHP Policy).
The Code has been incorporated into state and territory animal welfare
legislation, and controls the operation of non-human primate facilities. It
also regulates animal welfare requirements in these facilities.
The NHP Policy requires researchers to 'ensure that documentation of the
source of each non-human primate and assessment of its behaviour, clinical
history and health status, accompany the animal and are kept current'. The NHP
Policy also requires that, wherever possible, researchers must source primates
from one of the three nationally funded breeding colonies. However, if animals
are to be imported for NHMRC funded research they must be obtained from
captive-bred populations and must be accompanied by documentation to certify
their status. In addition, the Animal Welfare Committee of the NHMRC must be
notified prior to importation.
The NHMRC funds the use of primates in health and medical research,
however the research must also have been approved by an institutional animal
ethics committee (AEC). AECs are established by individual research institutions,
based on the Code and controlled by the animal welfare legislation of the
relevant state or territory.
Under the Code, AECs must include people from four different categories
with specified qualifications and experience including veterinary science, use
of animals for scientific purposes relevant to the institution and the business
of the committee and experience in furthering animal welfare. A person with no
research or connection to the institution who should 'be viewed by the wider
community as bringing a completely independent view to the committee and must
not fit the requirements of any other category' is also to be appointed to an
When assessing research proposals, AECs must be satisfied that the research
complies with the 3R principles. These principles are Replacement (there is no
alternative to the use of primates available), Reduction (researchers use a
minimum number of primates), and Refinement (adverse impacts on the animals are
minimised). If the importation of primates is proposed, the AEC must also be
satisfied that it is essential.
Issues raised in relation to the bill
Submitters who supported the bill acknowledged that the bill would only
prohibit the importation of primates for research rather than banning the use
of primates for research purposes. However, it was seen as an important first
step in ending animal experimentation. These submitters based their support of
the bill on a range of issues including:
concerns regarding the origins of imported primates;
concerns with the transport of primates;
concerns with institutional animal ethics committees;
the failure rate of application of successful primate research to
human application; and
the availability of alternative technologies and research
The committee received evidence from organisations and researchers which
raised concerns about the effect of any ban on imports of primates on the
long-term viability and genetic diversity of the primate colonies at
Australia's breeding facilities. Submitters who did not support the bill also
provided evidence in relation to the benefits of, and continued need for, the
use of primates in research. Submitters also responded to evidence about the
use of alternative technologies and research techniques. Finally, the committee
received evidence on the effect on Australian research capacity should the bill
The following discussion canvasses the evidence received in relation to
Origin of imported primates
Submitters commented on concerns with the origins of primates imported
for research. While it was noted that CITES and the NHP Policy restricted
imports of animals to those from captive-bred populations, it was submitted
that this requirement has not precluded the import of wild-caught primates.
Submitters pointed to the export of primates from Indonesia and argued
that, while being exported as captive-bred, they were in actual fact
Many primates are exported from so-called primate 'breeding islands' with Tinjil
Island the most well-known. According to Cruelty Free International, between
1988 and 1994, 520 long-tailed macaques were released on Tinjil Island, and by
2002, the population was an estimated 2000 primates. By 2002, 1150 offspring
had been trapped and transported for use in research. Tinjil Island and other
primate breeding islands provide primates for a number of primate-supply
companies in Indonesia.
According to RSPCA Australia, the Indonesian government authorises the
capture of several thousand macaques each year to replenish breeding stock in
these island facilities, although it noted that it is difficult to verify which
animals are wild-caught or captive-bred when exported.
In addition, a large number of primates exported for research from these
facilities are classified as 'first-generation' which indicates that animals
captured from the wild are relied upon for breeding, and that such facilities
are not self-sustaining.
Cruelty Free International also stated that it did not consider that 'island
breeding' could legitimately be classified as 'captive breeding' as the animals
live freely, interact with other wildlife, and are part of the islands'
In addition, breeding occurs naturally and there is no control of genetic
Ms Helen Marston, Chief Executive Officer of Humane Research Australia
(HRA), told the committee that:
...we believe that the ban on wild-caught animals is a
sham...mainly because the macaques that we have received for our research have
been obtained from Tinjil Island in Indonesia, and they are classified as
captive-bred because the island is contained, but they are actually free-living
animals in a natural environment that are caught and then have been
transported. There is also no ban on the capture of wild animals to replenish
The committee received evidence responding to concerns about the
importation of wild-caught primates. Associate Professor James Bourne, medical
researcher and Chair of the Nonhuman Primate Breeding and Research Facility
Board operated by the Monash University, stated that:
None of the recently imported primates were taken from wild
populations...Their breeding and health history was fully documented. All animals
were either bred in the primatology centre or have continuously been held there
for over two years.
Associate Professor Bourne went on to further assure the committee that:
None of the animals that have been imported since 2012 have
been from an island such as Tinjil Island...They have been from European
facilities which are accredited by AAALAC, which is an independent body that
looks at animal welfare and care...They are also ISO 9001 accredited.
In addition, the committee received evidence from researchers who supported
the ban on the use of wild-caught primates for research.
The committee sought evidence from the Department of the Environment as
to whether there was a possibility that Australia could have imported wild
caught animals via a third country. Dr Ilse Kiessling, Assistant Secretary,
Wildlife Trade and Biosecurity Branch in the Department of the Environment told
the committee that:
...CITES permits that are provided from exporting countries
show the original origin of the animal. There are no permits that have come to
us that have shown that the species are from wild caught.
Mr Stephen Oxley, First Assistant Secretary, Wildlife, Heritage and
Marine Division in the Department of the Environment, added that the non-human
primates that have been exported to Australia from Europe have come with the
certification of the CITES management authority of the exporting country which have
very rigorous processes in place.
In addition, Mr Oxley noted that the import permits required by Australia are 'stricter
domestic measures', that is, they are a requirement over and above the
obligations under CITES.
Transport of primates
A number of submissions raised concerns regarding the transport of live
primates on international flights. For example, People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA) Australia stated that primates are:
...transported inside the dark cargo holds of long-haul flights
— which in some cases can last up to three days and can involve turbulence,
extreme fluctuations in temperature, multiple loadings and unloadings and a
lack of food, water and veterinary care.
PETA Australia commented that researchers from the University of Oxford
found that air transport causes stress in primates which can compromise their
welfare and lead to changes in their behaviour. Chronic stress in captive
animals can lead to self-harming behaviour such as slapping and biting
themselves, hair pulling, rocking, circling and pacing.
Similarly, the joint submission from the Barristers Animal Welfare Panel
and Sentient stated there is evidence that primates suffer weight loss after
being subjected to long distance transportation. This is especially the case in
juvenile primates where the stress of 'unfamiliar handling and changes to diet
and feeding schedules' compromises the animal's ability to recovery.
However, the Department of the Environment stated that the international
transport of live animals by commercial airlines is regulated by the International Air Transport Association Live Animal
Regulations (IATA Regulations). These worldwide standards are intended to
ensure that all animals are transported by air safely and humanely. All CITES
signatory countries agree to comply with the IATA Regulations when transporting
Mr Oxley also noted that the EPBC Act and EPBC Regulations require that the
transport of live animals be done in a humane way. In addition, the decision
maker, in assessing an application to import a primate, must be satisfied that
animal welfare requirements are met during transportation.
institutional animal ethics committees
As noted above, the NHMRC requires the establishment of animal ethics
committees. Ms Helen Marston raised concern with the composition of AECs and
Many of the people on ethics committees are not
scientifically expert to challenge the validity of the research using animals
and to be aware of the alternatives that are available...
The RSPCA also voiced concern with AECs. It noted that AECs alone have
the responsibility of 'balancing whether the potential effects on the wellbeing
of the animals involved is justified by the potential benefits to humans,
animals or the environment in order to decide whether or not the project should
be approved'. The RSPCA called for the NHMRC to investigate new mechanisms for
the oversight of the use of primates in research.
In response to these matters, Professor Anne Kelso, Chief Executive Officer
of the NHMRC, commented that 'while any one member of an ethics committee
cannot have deep expertise in every area of research, they will have broad
expertise relevant to the work of the committee'. Professor Kelso went on to
note that all research approved for funding by the NHMRC has gone through a
rigorous peer review process 'as to its quality and the relevance and
appropriateness of any animal models, if they are proposed, in the research
All NHMRC funded research must comply with both the Code and the NHP
Policy and the committee received evidence that both the Code and the NHP
Policy ensure that all research carried out using primates is conducted to the
highest standard of ethical care. This standard is considered to be higher than
those in a number of other countries. For example, Dr Nicholas Price stated
...the NHMRC Policy on Non-Human Primates was recently reviewed
and is world-leading; husbandry and housing policies are more strict, and
ensure better welfare for animals than similar policies in USA, Japan, Europe
and UK. The facilities are regularly inspected by members of an Animal Ethics
Committee, as per NHMRC regulations.
Another submitter noted that the research codes mean that 'any NHP
related work is performed to the highest standard of ethical care'.
The Australasian Neuroscience Society similarly added that the 'bar is set very
high for support of primate research by academic institutions and funding
Associate Professor Bourne provided evidence in relation to the care of
primates and commented that research is conducted under the 'strictest scrutiny
and followed the principles of reduction, refinement and [replacement]—the
three Rs' and 'researchers are continuously looking for alternative models that
can replicate the vast complexity of disorders and diseases'. He added that while
undertaking research, 'the care and welfare of animals is of paramount concern'.
In relation to the care of primates in breeding facilities, Associate Professor
Bourne stated that the facilities are managed by experts including geneticists.
The facilities are inspected by animal ethics committees, state animal welfare
agencies and the Department of the Environment.
Appropriateness of primate models
for medical research
The committee received evidence which argued against the use of primates
in medical research on the grounds that primates are not an appropriate model
for medical research and that there are alternative research methods and
technologies available. While this issue is not related directly to the bill,
the following discussion is included to provide a complete picture of the
arguments put forward by the submitters and witnesses supporting the bill.
In relation to the appropriateness of the use of primate research,
submitters pointed to instances where success in the use of drugs and vaccines
on primates had not been transferred to humans. For example, HRA noted that
data from the US Food and Drug Administration had shown that 95 per cent of
drugs successfully tested on animals fail when translated to humans.
Cruelty Free International also pointed to some 100 HIV vaccines which
have been tested in monkeys with positive results, 'yet none have provided
protection or therapeutic benefit in humans'. Cruelty Free International went
on to argue that primates are no better at predicting the safety of new drugs
than other species. It also asserted that 'data from developmental toxicity
tests in primates correlate with human data just 50 per cent of the time'
which is less than species such as rats, hamsters and ferrets.
While pointing to recent cases where drugs successfully tested on
monkeys had led to near fatal outcomes for volunteers, Dr Andre Menache
commented that 'animal models are actually giving us a false sense of security
and if we did not have the animals, we would be a lot more careful'.
HRA concluded that research on primates could not be 'accurately
credited for any medical "breakthrough"' as:
The genetic, anatomic and metabolic differences between
humans and other animals mean that any data obtained from animal tests cannot
be translated to humans with sufficient accuracy. Even when genetically
modified, there is no single animal model that can accurately mimic the complex
human situation. There are far too many unknown variables that cannot all be
The committee also received evidence which pointed to the emergence of
new methods and technologies which, it was argued, called into question the continued
use of primates in medical research. For example, Australians for Animals
stated that the range of non-animal methods continues to grow and concluded
that while it is claimed by some researchers that alternative methods are not
yet sophisticated enough to replace animal tests, these methods are more
dependable and produce more accurate results than tests on primates.
HRA similarly argued that Australian researchers should be using non-animal
methodologies that are far more relevant to studying human disease.
Associate Professor Brett Lidbury and Dr Menache provided the committee
with examples of research methods which they commented were viable alternatives
to primate research. Dr Menache pointed to the use of toxicogenomics and Associate
Professor Lidbury to the 'human-on-a-chip' technology.
In addition, Associate Professor Lidbury noted the use of the Ames test and the
development, by the European Centre for Validation of Alternative Methods, of
approximately 50 animal replacement alternatives for toxicology testing.
Dr Menache concluded that:
No-one is suggesting that we can replace an animal experiment
with a bunch of cells or with a computer. What we are saying is that we want to
replace animal experiments because they are not effective or efficient and they
are not able to predict what will happen in people.
In response to these arguments, submitters who did not support the bill
provided evidence of the benefits of, and continued need for, the use of
primates in research. In addition, it was noted that the numbers of primates
used for research purposes are small.
The European Animal Research Association noted that primates account for
less than 0.05 per cent of all animals used in Europe 'yet their role has
been central in many important medical advances'.
These include the development of the polio vaccine, anti-retroviral therapies,
life support systems for premature babies and deep brain stimulation for
Evidence pointed to the continued need for research on primates.
Currently, primates are used in research on infectious diseases, brain
function, neurodegenerative diseases, and reproduction, fertility and foetal
research. Professor James McClusky, Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research) and Dr
Mark Hargraves, Dean, The University of Melbourne, commented:
The areas of enquiry underway are
not amendable to experiments in lower mammals, in vitro test tube approaches or
virtual computer modelling or simulation. Animal models are used because it is
the only way currently to understand a process in vivo i.e. in a living system,
where it is possible to tease out a cascade of consequences with a given
intervention. Living systems are highly complex, are relatively simple methods
of investigation (e.g. cell culture or computer modelling) cannot effectively
simulate such a complex environment.
It was also argued that research on primates allowed Australia to
respond to emerging public health issues.
In this regard, submitters pointed to the development of novel vaccines which
often require research using primates. An example provided was that of the
novel dengue virus vaccine which is currently being tested in African green
monkeys. The Zika virus was also mentioned by Associate Professor Bourne who
commented that the development of a vaccine is likely to involve rhesus
Professor Kelso also noted the development of a vaccine for Ebola where safety
and efficacy of the vaccine was demonstrated in macaques.
In response to arguments about alternatives to the use of primates in
research, Professor Kelso indicated that there are some areas of research where
use of primates is not appropriate either because they are not the best model
or they are too expensive for the scale of work.
However, while there are alternatives available these may have limited
application. For example, Associate Professor Bourne stated that tests,
genetics, proteomics and genomics are used but there are some areas of
research, such as understanding brain disease, which require the use of
Similarly, in relation to the use of rodents, it was submitted that while
important research is undertaken on rodents, there are limits to the
applicability of this research to humans. For example, it was stated that:
...diseases such as autism, schizophrenia and Alzheimers'
disease cannot be completely modelled in lower order species such as rodents
due to their rudimentary cognitive abilities, impeding the search for therapies
for such diseases. This leads the way for more translatable primate-based research
models, which have more comparable cognitive and behavioural abilities to
humans to account for this short fall.
Associate Professor Bourne went further and commented that it was false
to claim that knowledge gained from primate research is not applicable to
humans. He went on to state:
Anyone who claims that insights gained from animals are
meaningless when it comes to the understanding of normal and pathogenic
processes in human bodies is either badly informed or knowingly untruthful.
Primates share approximately 95 per cent of human genes and a number of
anatomical and physiological similarities. For this reason primates are
critical to biomedical research targeting the cause, progression, prevention
and treatment of a wide variety of diseases.
Professor Kelso also commented on the need for continued research using
...a critical effect on the development of new drugs and
vaccines for the treatment of human conditions. That will particularly
apply—again, from a research point of view rather than a regulatory point of
view—to those conditions where non-human primates provide the best model—the
best approximation—to human disease.
In addition, it was noted that many drugs validated in rodents have had
poor translation into therapeutics for humans due to the differences between
species. The Australasian Neuroscience Society commented that there have been
occurrences where clinical trials have moved rapidly from rodents to human
investigations resulting in harm of participants because additional experiments
were not conducted in primates.
Long-term viability of primate
Submitters who opposed the bill expressed concern that, without
continued importation of primates when required, the long-term viability of
primate colonies will be undermined and ultimately the welfare of animals in
Australia's primate colonies would be adversely affected. It was argued that, without
primate imports from colonies around the world, inbreeding would result in an
increased chance of congenital defects, mortality and low fertility and thus
the colonies usefulness in providing a reliable animal model.
The department indicated that 37 marmosets were imported in 2014 with
another 22 imported in 2015 along with 10 macaques in that year.
Dr Price commented on the need for the importation of primates undertaken
...separate groups of marmoset and macaque monkeys were
imported to diversify the genetic pool of the existing Australian breeding
colonies. This was necessary to limit the risks associated with in-breeding;
without this importation, the breeding colony would have been: (1) unable to
supply the number of animals required for research purposes; (2) suffered a
steady decline in health due to in-breeding.
While supporting the continued importation of primates to ensure the
viability of Australia's breeding colony, the need for those primates to be
sourced from reputable breeders was endorsed.
The need for continued genetic
diversity of primate colonies
A number of submissions argued that the bill, in its current form, would
have long-term negative consequences for the future of Australian biomedical
research. In particular, a decline in the genetic diversity of primate colonies
and/or a decrease in numbers of primates through disease and attrition would
limit research opportunities.
Submitters commented on the importance of genetic diversity of primates
used in research. It was noted that a captive primate population 'outbred' is
important when primates are used in researching human diseases as they best
reflect the human populace.
Associate Professor Bourne explained that:
The health of these colonies and an ability for them to
continue to represent a heterogeneous human population depends on outbreeding
to maintain genetic diversity.
The Association of Primate Veterinarians also commented on the
consequences of a reduction in genetic diversity over time are 'expected to be
severe' and added:
In the short term, reduced genetic diversity can change the
means and variability of important biomedical traits and will complicate or
invalidate the interpretation of experimental findings in NHPs to human
disease. Over the longer term, this loss of genetic diversity will result in
fewer viable offspring, increased morbidity and mortality in the colony, and
spiralling costs for veterinary care, as genetic variation that prevents disease
is lost permanently from the colony. Ultimately, the colony will become
unsustainable, and will collapse under this burden.
HRA responded to this issue and argued that a lack of genetic diversity
would only be an issue if Australian researchers were looking at 'using large
numbers in the future'.
Ms Marston also commented that a commitment to the 3Rs principle would mean
that 'there should be no reason to improve that genetic diversity when we
should be looking at replacing them altogether'.
However, Associate Professor Bourne explained that:
...we have enough in the colony for a period of time, but that
aligns with a stable usage. In these colonies we do not keep animals for years
on end or have a large colony; we keep a stable number that allows for the
research of the day. There may be a need for some condition that we need to
ramp up the size of the colony, and that may require an additional import.
Similarly, the Expert Group for Non-Human Primate Neuroscience Research
in the UK commented that the 'Australian NHP breeding colonies are probably too
small to maintain a diverse genetic background. The currently contemplated ban
on the importation of lab-bred NHPs would prevent any new monkeys being
imported to maintain the colony.'
The effect on Australian research
A further matter raised with the committee by submitters opposing the
bill was the effect on Australia's research capacity, particularly the ability
of Australian scientists to respond to public health issues or new areas of
The International Basel Declaration Society, for example, commented on the
standing of Australian research and the use of primates in that research:
Traditionally, Australian scientists have made a
disproportionate contribution to biomedical research internationally. Current
Australian research with non-human primates covers an impressive breadth,
including endocrinology, immunology, and neuroscience, all areas in which
progress has recently accelerated, mainly due to the introduction of novel
approaches, particularly in gene-based technologies and imaging. Thus, many
novel approaches to treatment for medical disorders, such as gene therapy and
stem cell transplants, could not be developed and tested without research in
It was also noted that many other countries undertake primate-based
research programs. This primate research is 'an important factor for Australia
to maintain a competitive edge in medical research globally'.
In addition, a ban on the importation of live primates may force Australian
researchers to move overseas to continue their work. Associate Professor Bourne
told the committee that without access to primates he would 'have to ultimately
leave Australia and enter into a country...[in] Europe or the United States' to
continue his research.
It was also stated in another submission that should researchers move to other
jurisdictions because of the lack of suitable primates for research, there is
the possibility that they may go to other countries which do not have such a
high ethical standards.
The European Animal Research Association concluded:
If an artificial limit is placed on the importation into Australia
of NHPs for research, it will limit the progress that can be made in both fundamental
research and innovative medicine development.
The committee commends the Government for its commitment to implementing
the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora through the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act
The committee notes that the bill is a response to concerns about the
international trade in wild-caught primates and seeks to ensure that Australia
does not participate in this trade. In addition, as stated in the second
reading speech, the bill is a first step in stopping the use of primates in
The committee has considered the evidence received and believes that it
does not point to a need for a ban on the import of primates for research.
Moreover, the evidence indicates that there will be significant effects on
biomedical research in Australia should a ban on imports be implemented.
While acknowledging concerns about the trade in wild-caught primates,
the committee notes that there is no evidence that primates recently imported
to Australia are wild-caught. In addition, the committee draws attention to
submissions from researchers which point to support for bans on the use of
wild-caught primates in research.
In relation to concerns about the welfare of primates used in research
in Australia, the committee acknowledges the work of the NHMRC, state and
territory agencies and the Department of the Environment in ensuring that
research on primates is performed to the highest ethical standard and that the
welfare of research animals is paramount.
The committee also notes the concerns of stakeholders about the effect of
a ban on imports on the long-term viability of the three nationally funded
primate breeding facilities. The committee also considers that a ban on imports
would significantly affect current research as well as Australia's ability to
respond to emerging public health issues.
While there was evidence of the development of viable alternatives to
the use of primates in some areas of research, it appears that these
alternatives are yet to reach a stage where they can replace research using primates.
Given the implications for scientific and medical research being
conducted in Australia, the committee considers that the bill should not be
The committee recommends that the Senate not pass the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Prohibition of Live Imports
of Primates for Research) Bill 2015.
Linda Reynolds CSC
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