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Rabies testing on animals to go ahead despite celebrity protests

Rabies testing on animals to go ahead despite celebrity protests

Taipei, Oct. 22 (CNA) Experiments that will infect healthy dogs with the rabies virus will continue as planned, the Council of Agriculture (COA) said Tuesday, dismissing calls of protest from animal activists and Hollywood stars. U.S. entertainment news website Ecorazzi reported Monday that celebrities including actor Alec Baldwin have petitioned COA Minister Chen Bao-ji, urging Taiwan to focus on vaccinating dogs and cats to prevent transmission of the deadly disease, rather than infecting healthy animals to learn about it. Council Deputy Minister Wang Cheng-teng responded Tuesday by saying that no changes have been made to plans to conduct the animal tests. The experiments will start with healthy mice and Formosan ferret-badgers before testing on dogs, all part of an effort to see how rabies is transmitted between species, Wang said. To date, rabies in Taiwan has been found almost exclusively in ferret-badgers, with the sole exception of one Asian house shrew, prompting speculation that this particular strain of the virus cannot be passed to other species. In his letter, the outspoken Baldwin pointed to evidence that all known rabies variants can infect any warm-blooded animals as a reason to call off the experiments. "I have two dogs myself and want them to be safe from the threat of rabies, so I understand your concern about the recent rabies outbreak in Taiwan, your desire to protect the city's (sic) animals and humans," wrote the Emmy Award-winning actor, according to media reports. "But infecting beagle puppies with this new strain of rabies isn't the answer," the letter continued. Baldwin's voice joins that of actress Maggie Q, who wrote her own letter of protest to Chen in September, which called the tests "a step backward." The U.S. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has also campaigned against what it calls a "cruel experiment," with committee president Neal Barnard writing, "It sounds like a scene from a horror movie." The organization has launched a petition on Change.org which has gathered over 46,000 signatures. The COA responded to similar criticisms and protests in mid-September by saying it would strictly follow laboratory and ethical standards. Minister Chen said at the time that the experiments would only go ahead with approval from a panel composed of animal rights activists and experts along with members of the COA's Animal Health Research Institute. Learning more about rabies is a priority for Taiwan, which was believed to be rabies free for 52 years until ferret-badgers all over the country were found infected starting in July. (By Oscar Wu, Lin Hui-chun and Y.L. Kao)


Updated : 2021-06-23 10:31 GMT+08:00