7 January 2021
by Borami Seo
South Korea is well-positioned to become a world leader in non-animal research technologies, with its consideration of a new legislative bill that would require regulatory and research funding ministries to promote the development and use of methods that replace animal research.
The proposed Act on the Promotion of Development, Dissemination and Use of Alternatives to Animal Testing Methods, led by National Assembly member Ms. In-soon Nam and 15 other politicians, and championed by animal protection leader Humane Society International/Korea (HSI/Korea), would prioritize human-mimetic technologies to modernize and improve human health research and product safety testing.
HSI began advocating for this legislation in 2018 in response to a lack of coordinated effort by governments and stakeholders to proactively promote and use alternative methods. In addition, 2019 government statistics revealed a shocking rise in the number of animals subjected to experiments. A total of 3,712,380 animals were used in South Korea in 2019, with an alarming 187% increase in animal use for testing insecticides and a 115% increase in the number of animals used to test industrial chemicals. Internationally recognised non-animal methods are not well promoted by government or embraced by industry in South Korea, with many laboratories simply ignoring them. The slow adoption of superior testing methods is further complicated by the lack of channels to communicate, collaborate and coordinate efforts towards state-of-the-art human-based technologies.
The bill’s sponsor, Assembly member Nam, said, “As a member of the health and welfare committee, I believe that this bill marks a much-needed initiative in our society to finally move away from relying on old models that use animals and collectively move forward to provide better research approaches based on human biology, which will advance public health as well as animal welfare.”
Nam’s proposed legislation promotes human-focused science and technology and defines ‘alternatives to animal testing methods’ as prioritizing full animal replacements. It also establishes a committee to set procedures for collaboration with other central authorities to develop, disseminate and use non-animal methods.
The proposed law is also likely to be popular with South Korean citizens. A recent opinion poll by Realmeter and commissioned by HSI/Korea shows that 80% of Koreans want to see their tax money spent on supporting advanced non-animal approaches such as human organ-mimics and tests using human-derived cells instead of experiments on mice, monkeys and dogs.
HSI championed the idea of draft legislation in collaboration with the lawyers’ group, PNR, and held a series of consultations with stakeholders. In 2019, at a first public forum in South Korea, cross-ministerial officials discussed the legislation at the National Assembly. Since then, HSI has participated in a project with the Korea Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (KoCVAM), led by the Korea Legislation Research Institute, to provide policy research to support alternatives to animal testing consistent with the draft legislation. In 2020, HSI and Ms. Nam hosted a second forum to discuss the bill.
HSI/Korea’s senior policy manager, Borami Seo said, “If passed, this bill will provide the legal framework needed to situate South Korea at the forefront of developing superior non-animal methods to better understand and treat human disease faster and more effectively. Despite exciting scientific innovations spearheaded by South Korean companies, such as the development of a human cornea model to replace animal testing, and human organ-mimetic models to develop next-generation 3-D cell technology for drug development, 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 and this historic bill will lead the way.”
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