Today the 2015 figures on the animals used for research, testing and teaching (RTT) were released by the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
Paul Dansted from MPI, says recently released statistics on the use of animals in research, testing and teaching in 2015 showed a 27.4% decrease from the previous year.
“225,310 animals were used in research, testing and teaching in 2015 which is 84,977 fewer than the previous year. The rolling 3-year average, at 253,215, is at its lowest under the Animal Welfare Act 1999,” he says.
NZAVS is disappointed by the misleading manner in which this report has been published. Just last year there was a 39% increase in the number of animals used for RTT in NZ from 2013 to 2014. Then, comparing the 2013 and 2012 statistics, there was another apparent decrease.
Why do the statistics go up and down regularly, from year to year?
This is due to the nature of the reporting for long term projects. Some experiments run for longer than a year, sometimes up to 3-4 years. The approval for those only have to be granted once. While the experiment is running for all of those years, it is only counted once.
Looking at the most recent three years of animal usage data available (2015, 2014 and 2013), the rolling three year average makes the trend appear low due to the reported animals being used in 2013 being significantly low. The annual statistics reported by MPI really aren’t a good indication of what is truly happening.
The issue that we should be focusing on is that this is not an announcement to be proud of. In 2015 alone 225, 310 animals were used. That’s still 225, 310 animals too many!
The University of Otago is in the process of building a new $50 million animal lab so there is not a trend of decline in animal based research like this announcement implies. This new facility will enable and encourage the University of Otago to continue animal-based research for years to come.
The Netherlands have recently announced that they have a goal to be using only human-relevant, non-animal testing methods by 2025. This is the type of goal a country should be proud of, not a 27.4% decrease in animals used in one year.
Another important issue to point out with the way that animal statistics are reported in NZ is that animals used in breeding facilities are not included in these annual reports.
The annual reported figures by MPI don’t include animals used for breeding or that are bred and then not used in vivisection. After carrying out research on the numbers bred by facilities in NZ, NZAVS estimate that if these animals were included, the number of animals used every year would be doubled.
The reality is that only a portion of the animals bred, confined and killed in NZ facilities are even used. Many spend their short lives in a small plastic container in a vivisector’s breeding unit before being killed and disposed of as they are excess to requirements. Their lives aren’t even counted by the government as only the numbers used in experiments are reported to MPI.
There are many other issues we have with this report. These include statements such as:
- “There are strict controls around the use of animals for research, testing and teaching. These controls are designed to prevent unnecessary pain and distress to animals and ensure any cost to the animals must be outweighed by the potential or actual benefits to be gained from the work.” — Dr Dansted.
We do not agree with this statement. MPI needs to commission a complete systematic review of the medical research done in NZ to see the true cost to human health. We should instead be putting our resources and time into more relevant research methods (especially when it comes to medical research and trying to find useful cures for humans).
- “The Animal Welfare Act 1999 requires a code of ethical conduct to be approved by MPI. In 2015, 26 institutions had codes of ethical conduct approved.
“Each project must be scrutinised and approved by an animal ethics committee that has been established under the code.
“These committees assess a range of considerations guided by the three Rs”, the internationally accepted principles of humane experimental technique,” he says.
The three Rs are:
- reduction in the numbers of animals to the minimum necessary to achieve a result
- replacement of animals with a less sentient or non-sentient alternative wherever possible
- refinement of procedures as well as of animal environments to minimise pain or distress.
“These controls recognise that although compromised care and some pain and distress may result in significant benefits to people, other animals or the environment, such use carries with it significant responsibilities and strict legislative obligations,” says Dr Dansted.
We also do not agree with this statement. Each Animal Ethics Committee in NZ consists of at least 4 members, including an independent vet, a lay person nominated by a local body, and a nominee of an approved animal welfare organisation. The only such approved organisation is the SPCA.
None of the above are experts on non-animal based methods and none of which have access to a database with the many non-animal based methods that exist globally.
How can we rely on a group of 4 people to be experts on many different fields of research and know what other, better options exist? They are instead told by the researcher applying for permission, that they themself have already looked for viable alternatives.
If these AEC’s were as strict as they claim to be then repetitive experiments and dissections would not occur annually at Universities around NZ as this would be seen as wasteful. We would also be moving our research in a far different direction if the main goal of these committees was to use the best, most relevant research methods.
Read the MPI report here
If you want to suggest to MPI that they should commission a full systematic review of medical research done in NZ then we encourage you to send an email to them – [email protected]