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Malaysian official defends animal test lab, says God made monkeys for experiments

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — A Malaysian government official defended an Indian company's plans to build an animal testing medicine lab in his state, saying Monday that God created monkeys and rats for experiments to benefit humans.

The plans by India's Vivo BioTech Ltd. to set up a biotechnology center in southern Malacca state has come under fire by activists because it will conduct tests on dogs and primates to make medicines. The activists say Malaysia has no regulations on animal research, which could lead to test subjects being abused.

But Malacca Chief Minister Mohamad Ali Rustam said the lab had received state approval, and animal testing was necessary to make drugs. The project is still in the planning phase.

"God created animals for the benefits of human beings. That's why he created rats and monkeys ... We cannot test on human beings," he told The Associated Press. "This is the way it has to be. God created monkeys, and some have to be tested."

He said Malaysian agencies, such as the wildlife department, could monitor that the animals were not abused and proper procedures followed. He said eating animals could also be seen as cruel, and yet it was widely accepted.

Vivo inked a 450 million ringgit ($141 million) joint-venture deal in January to build the biotechnology center, including laboratories where trial medicines will be tested on animals. Its partners are state government-owned Melaka Biotech Holdings and local firm Vanguard Creative Technologies.

Malaysia's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals slammed Mohamad Ali's statement, saying it had not been scientifically proven that animal testing was necessary to develop medicine.

"Our primates will be snatched from the forests to be tested for what? Animal testing really leads to nowhere," group representative Christine Chin-Radford said Monday.

"We are not confident at all that ... their welfare will be looked at properly. We are concerned about this exportation of cruelty to Malaysia," Chin-Radford said.

SPCA, together with European animal rights groups, submitted a protest letter to the government last month, urging it to halt the project. Chin-Radford said animal cruelty is against Malaysian law, and there are no separate guidelines to govern the treatment of test animals.

Animal rights activists say companies are increasingly outsourcing animal testing to Asia, where regulations are more lax and costs are lower than in the West. India also has strict rules concerning animal testing, Chin-Radford said.

Vivo has said previously it may import beagles from Holland and try to obtain domestic primates for testing.

Last year, a French pharmaceutical research company proposed building an animal testing laboratory in southern Johor state using imported macaques, but the project was suspended amid an outcry from environmental groups.