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Australian Senate rejects bill to ban the importation of non-human primates

Last week, the Australian Senate released their report in response to a proposed law amendment to ban the importation of non-human primates to Australia for the purposes of scientific research. After receiving submissions opposing the bill from scientific organisations and individuals from around the globe, including EARA, the Senate has decided not to pass the bill.

A group of Australian scientists called out to the scientific community in February for support in responding to the bill, as the majority of the submissions until then had come from animal rights extremists. EARA helped mobilise the response by encouraging our member organisations and other contacts to contribute. The call resulted in dozens of submissions arguing for the great importance of non-human primate research to science to ensure that the Australian Senate would not hear only skewed evidence from the animal rights extremists. A decision on the bill was made following a public hearing on February 5th, at which Associate Professor James Bourne represented the voice of science.

The amendment was proposed in late 2015 by Green Party Senator Lee Rhiannon based on concerns that some of the imported animals would be wild-caught, and on the fact that there are already three breeding colonies for research primates in Australia. Australia already has a ban on importing wild-caught animals and importation is necessary to maintain the existing colonies’ health, so the larger aim of the bill’s supporters exceeded these issues: their ultimate goal is to end non-human primate research, and eventually all animal research. As the Senate’s report states: “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.”

EARA’s letter was quoted twice in the Senate report, noting 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”; and concluding that “if an artificial limit is placed on the importation into Australia of non-human primates for research, it will limit the progress that can be made in both fundamental research and innovative medicine development.” There is no doubt that the flurry of submissions from the scientific community helped the Senate make the right direction. In the face of increasing antipathy toward research using primates, it is important we stand together in highlighting their role in biomedical research. We are relieved to see that the Senate chose to reject a bill that would have endangered the future of important primate research in Australia and beyond.


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