Animal rights group calls on China to respect rats

February 4, 2008 5:17:35 AM PST

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, said it has asked the Chinese government to consider animal welfare laws for rats used in laboratory experiments. The group also recommended a series of guidelines for animals used in science.

"Rats sing, they dream, and they express empathy for others," Coco Yu of PETA's Asia-Pacific branch said in a statement.

China has increasingly become a place of business for international pharmaceutical companies, the group said.

The country has a shoddy animal rights record. There is little animal welfare legislation, many zoos are poorly run and animal parts are traded for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Activists have called on China to phase out bear farms, where bile is harvested for traditional medicine, complaining that the animals are often raised in inhumane conditions.

The rat is one of 12 animals in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, which follows the lunar calendar. The Lunar New Year is Thursday.