BUKIT MERTAJAM, Malaysia: While animal lovers are up in arms over the setting up of an animal testing laboratory in Malacca, a similar facility is believed to have been operating on the quiet here for the past three years.
According to the company's website, it is an independent contract research organisation offering toxicology services to the worldwide pharmaceutical, biotechnology, agrochemical and industrial chemical industries.
It claims to conduct toxicology tests on a range of animals. It said some animals were used for regulatory pre-clinical toxicity testing of pharmaceuticals and certain chemicals, such as agrochemicals and biocides.
The RM52mil facility includes a state-of-the-art dog unit, purpose-built to provide the highest standards of animal care and advanced study procedures.
There were also 15 animal rooms, each designed to hold up to 40 dogs and enabling the housing of one study per room, the company said in its website.
The company also said its non-human primate building included eight animal rooms.
It added that the primates would be supplied from the company's own biosecure breeding facility.
The website stated that the company had a 3,200 sq m barriered rodent facility for short-term toxicity, carcinogenicity and reproductive toxicity studies.
The existence of such a laboratory comes as a surprise to the state Wildlife and National Parks Department, which wants to investigate the company operating at the Penang Science Park in Bukit Minyak.
Penang-based Sahabat Alam Malaysia (SAM) is shocked that the company is operating in its own "backyard" without its knowledge.
Department director Noor Alif Wira Othman said it had not issued any permit for primates to be bred for research purposes in the state.
"Breeding primates for research requires several permits such as for catching, keeping, breeding, selling or buying of the primates. We will conduct an inspection on this premises to find out if they have the necessary documentation," he said.
SAM president S.M. Mohd Idris expressed shock and disappointment when informed about the facility.
"We have been actively fighting with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Selangor against the animal testing lab in Malacca.
"Little did we know there was a lab conducting similar activities here in Penang," he said.
A state official-cum-animal lover, who declined to be named, said he was disappointed with the previous administration for allowing the facility to be set up in Penang.
"I believe the company had once mentioned that it chose Penang to set up the facility because the laws on animal testing in European nations were more stringent," he said.
Former state executive councillor Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan said: "The issue should not be over-politicised as I am sure proper procedures are observed to avoid causing unnecessary discomfort to the animals."
British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection and the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research said about 115 million animals were used in scientific research globally in 2005 based on official national figures and estimates from the number of scientific papers published involving animals.
Only Liechtenstein and San Marino have banned animal testing.
A check by The Star yesterday showed that there were fewer than 15 cars parked in the compound and CCTV cameras installed around the two-storey building.
There were hardly any activity in the compound except for a few people believed to be suppliers and contractors going in and out of the premises.
When met at the entrance, a security guard claimed that the company had not started formal operations yet.
He said his boss was busy and could not see any visitors.
Although he took down the name and contact number of the reporter, and said his boss would telephone, no call came from the company.
-The Star/Asia News Network