80% of Koreans support increased funding to replace animal testing

10 August 2020
Image: Oxana Kuzhetsova

A opinion poll reveals that the majority of Koreans want to see their tax spent on supporting advanced approaches instead of animal testing.

With South Korea’s National Assembly set to review a bill to promote non-animal research methods later this year, and official statistics published last month showing a 3.7 million animals used for testing, a new opinion poll reveals that the majority of Koreans want to see their tax money spent on supporting advanced approaches instead of animal testing. Almost 82% of respondents want to see the 21st National Assembly session demonstrate legislative support for alternatives to animal testing, which includes approaches such as human organ-mimics and tests using human-derived cells instead of experiments on mice, monkeys and dogs.

The nationwide survey conducted by independent polling company Realmeter, and commissioned by Humane Society International/Korea, comes a month after official statistics published by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs revealed a total of 3,712,380 animals used for testing in 2019. The statistics showed a 40% increase in pharmaceutical quality control animal testing.

South Korea’s high level of animal use persists despite efforts by many Korean scientists to rapidly develop human-relevant methods. Unfortunately, even internationally recognised non-animal methods are not well promoted by government or industry. The majority of laboratories in South Korea certified as “Good Laboratory Practice” by the Ministry of Environment still use animals even where internationally recognised alternatives are readily available, and few of Korea’s contract testing facilities even offer non-animal test options.

Borami Seo, Humane Society International/Korea’s Senior Policy Manager for research and toxicology, said: “South Korea’s scientists are at the forefront of efforts to develop superior non-animal methods to better understand and treat human disease faster and more effectively. And yet without a legal framework to promote the use of these methods, they are all too often being ignored. Among other achievements, South Korean companies have developed a human cornea model to replace animal testing for eye irritation that has been accepted as an official test method by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; are incorporating gene editing technology into human cell-based models for drug screening for Wilson’s disease; and are establishing human organ-mimetic models to develop next-generation 3-D cell technology for drug development. Yet despite all this innovation, Korea’s regulatory framework is still biased towards the old ways of animal testing, which isn’t benefiting animal welfare or human health. That has to change.”

Seo says that  the future of scientific research lies in non-animal approaches like human organoids, organs-on-chips and next-generation computing and AI.

“This new opinion poll clearly shows that the vast majority of Koreans agree that the government should be taking serious action to advance the use of non-animal approaches. It’s time Korea followed the example of the United States, the Netherlands and other innovation economies that have made a serious investment in non-animal technologies. It’s been six decades since the concept of non-animal testing was introduced to the scientific community and yet animal use in Korean laboratories remains unacceptably high. We urge our government to become a global leader in non-animal science not only to protect animals from suffering, but also to accelerate more effective and predictive product safety and medical research for the benefit of the public.”

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