Uncaged Campaigns Upset Over Korean Xenotransplantation Plan

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported that South Korea was preparing to spend $73 million to kick start an effort to mass produce organs for transplant from pigs into human beings. The South Korean project will included 90 researchers and aims to produce pigs whose organs can be transplanted into human beings by 2010.

Dan Lyons of Uncaged Campaigns quickly put out a press release opposing the plan under the headline, “Korean pig organ transplant plans sparks international alarm.” From reading the press release, however, the “international alarm” appears to be limited to Lyons perhaps being outraged about it while on an intercontinental flight.

In the press release, Lyons is quoted as saying,

Pig-to-primate organ transplant experimentation has caused controversy across Europe and North America because of the appalling cruelty involved and the danger of creating a new viral epidemic. With South KoreaÂ’s terrible animal welfare reputation – symbolised by dog eating – and the recent lethal SARS outbreak in the Far East, this announcement will ring alarm bells around the world.

What is the point of Britain refusing to allow cross-species transplants if they take place in countries with no regulation? Viruses donÂ’t need passports.

Well, it should ring alarm bells in Great Britain — if it remains a hostile venue for animal research, groundbreaking work such as on xenotransplantation will simply shift to Asia, leaving the UK at risk of falling permanently behind in biosciences research.

As far as pig-to-primate organ transplant experimentation causing controversy, at least in North America the only group that seems to really find this controversial are animal rights activists. Of course, by that standard the diet of 98 percent of North Americans “has caused controversy.”

Lyons continues,

Xenotransplantation is more like bioalchemy than biotechnology. Drug companies have sacrificed tens of millions of pounds and tens of thousands of innocent animals, only to find that the whole idea is a cruel deception. With 180 million years of evolution separating pigs from humans, and advances in stem cell technology and other alternatives, we urge the South Koreans to consider whether this is really a good investment.

Lyons, of course, neglects to mention that those advances in stem cell technology are do in large measure thanks to exactly the sort of basic animal research that Uncaged Campaigns opposes. Whether or not xenotransplantation will ever be a viable alternative to human organ transplants remains to be seen, but it is certainly much more likely to happen than seeing Lyons and his compatriots actually maintain a consistent, truthful position about animal research.


Korea to mass-produce pig organs for human transplants. Associated Press, June 1, 2004.

Cambridge Research Facility Hearings

Hearings were held this week on Cambridge University’s proposal to build a primate research facility in Girton, just outside Cambridge.

The proposal has been rejected twice before on grounds that the research center is certain to become a focal point for animal rights protests which could disrupt traffic and create other public safety hazards. Earlier this year a planning commission rejected the plans 17-4 after hearing from police about disruptions that activists might create.

That decision led to criticism from Prime Minister Tony Blair who said that the problems obtaining approval for the site threatened Great Britain’s standing as a leader in medical research.

The laboratory would hose macaque and marmoset monkeys used as part of brain-related research. Science minister Lord Sainsbury told BBC2’s Newsnight that the research center was of national importance,

I was asked by the local planning authority what my view was and whether it was a project of national importance. Clearly it is a project of national importance. It is doing major research in a key area of science. It is now up to the planning authority to give their view as to whether this is right from a planning point of view.

Cambridge University has defended the research center as absolutely vital,

Advances in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, asthma and strokes have all been made as a result of research with primates. Ongoing research with primates offer the hope of effective treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and sight disorders, as well as the development of vaccines for malaria and Aids.

We understand that many people find the use of monkeys in medical research distressing. Research methods are continually evolving and while scientists and medical researchers aim to reduce work involving animals to a minimum, some of this work must continue if we are to make essential life-saving advances in medicine.

Animal rights activists, predictably, attacked such research as both cruel and unnecessary. Dan Lyons of Uncaged Campaigns told The Guardian (UK),

This research will cause suffering. The government tries to promote this centre as a scientific one, but it’s more to do with trying to create an impression of a business-friendly environment to attract more biotech and pharmaceutical companies. It’s a global business concern that’s driving this, rather than pure science.

Our concern is that the government is trying to present a commercial interest as a national interest. What’s ethically right is at odds with that commercial interest.

Regardless, the center is likely a done deal given Blair’s support and the fact that this time the decision rests solely with Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

Wendy Higgins of the British Union for the Abolition of Animal Vivisection told The BBC,

It is a political decision that will be made, not one about planning. The prime minister has already made his position absolutely clear and now that John Prescott has decided to recover the final decision for himself, it is highly unlikely that he will go against Mr. Blair.

But, of course, the decision not to build it before was predicated largely on unruly animal rights activists. Surely, those who engage in hooliganism should not be rewarded for their behavior by allowing its possibility to prevent the construction of a research facility. Lets just hope the British government is committed to dealing with animal rights extremism that will inevitably be directed at the facility once it is built.


Cambridge argues for monkey research. The BBC, November 25, 2002.

Minister backs animal testing lab plans. Polly Curtis, The Guardian (UK), November 26, 2002.