Primate Experiments

Page last updated: 08 June 2018

Australia has a strong framework for the regulation and oversight of the care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes. While there are differing views in the community about the use of non-human primates for scientific purposes, their use has led to many discoveries that are of benefit to human health, such as disease prevention and medical care from which all Australians benefit.

The state and territory governments are responsible for regulation of animal welfare. Any use of animals for scientific purposes (including research) must be in accordance with relevant state and territory legislation.

The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (the Code), published by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), is adopted in legislation in all states and territories. The Code sets out the framework for ensuring the ethical, humane and responsible care and use of animals used for scientific purposes.

Before any care and use of non-human primates for scientific purposes begins, the work must be approved by an institutional animal ethics committee (AEC). The AEC must be satisfied that the use of non-human primates is justified, there is no alternative, the minimum number is used, adverse impacts are avoided or minimised and animal wellbeing is supported.

NHMRC does not fund research involving non-human primates unless the work is of high quality and significance as determined by NHMRC’s peer review process, and the work has been reviewed and approved by an AEC before it begins. NHMRC requires the work to comply with relevant legislation and the Code. NHMRC also requires compliance with the Principles and guidelines for the care and use of non-human primates (2016) which provides best practice guidance in this specialised area.

The Commonwealth is responsible for regulating the importation of non-human primates with respect to biosecurity and compliance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. These responsibilities are exercised under the Biosecurity Act 2015, by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, by the Department of Environment and Energy. Under state and territory legislation, an AEC must approve the source of any non-human primates used for scientific purposes, and must be satisfied that any importation of the animals is necessary. NHMRC’s Principles and guidelines for the care and use of non-human primates (2016) requires non-human primates to be obtained from colonies in Australia or, if importation is essential, from captive-bred populations.

Senate inquiry
In 2016, a Senate Committee considered a Private Member’s Bill that sought to ban the import of live non-human primates for the purposes of research. Matters considered by the Committee included those related to the source of non-human primates imported into Australia, and the appropriateness of the use of non-human primate for medical research. While acknowledging concerns about the trade in wild-caught primates, the report noted that there was no evidence that non-human primates recently imported to Australia were wild-caught. The report also noted that the development of viable alternatives to the use of non-human primates in some areas of research has yet to reach a stage where alternatives can replace research using non-human primates. The Committee considered that the evidence received did not point to a need for a ban on the import of non-human primates for research. In addition, the evidence indicated that there will be significant effects on biomedical research in Australia should a ban on imports be implemented. Given this, the Committee recommended that the Senate not pass the Bill.