Stop the Otago Animal Lab Update – A Week of Meetings in Dunedin!
Our Campaign Manager Cressida visited Dunedin recently to meet with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Otago University, Richard Blaikie. NZAVS are committed to finding the most effective method of working towards ending the use of animals in research, testing, and teaching at Otago. We hoped that Otago would be willing to engage in a dialogue with us, as their commitment to the 3Rs principle would suggest that they would be willing to move towards human-based research and humane teaching practices. In particular, NZAVS were hoping to open a dialogue about the high rates of live animals used in undergraduate teaching, and the unknown numbers of animals killed so their tissues can be used for teaching purposes.
The problem with the use of live animals in undergraduate teaching is that every year there is a new cohort of students who will be required to do the same lab work, and the vast majority of animals used for this purpose will be euthanised afterwards. The problem with using animal tissues is that Otago is not required to report how many animals they kill for this purpose, and so there is an unknown additional number of animals used at Otago for undergraduate teaching. This cycle will repeat itself every year until either each lecturer decides to independently introduce the many humane teaching tools which are currently available, or until Otago makes a true commitment to the 3Rs principle by establishing a policy for humane tools to become the first option in the undergraduate curriculum.
To help Professor Blaikie understand why this change would be important not only for animals but for students also, Cressida asked a student representative to come along to the meeting. It was important to convey the message that students were missing out on attaining certain skills and learning outcomes due to unnecessary animal use. Our student representative had actively avoided taking papers which required animal use, which may have meant they missed out on key learning outcomes. This is clearly a problem with the use of live and deceased animals in undergraduate teaching: it alienates people from pursuing careers in the sciences if they are also animal lovers.
Our Campaign Manager made all these points and had even prepared a printed copy of the Science Bank catalogue full of humane learning tools including models, apps, and simulations that are currently available.
Unfortunately Professor Blaikie seemed more concerned with imposing humane learning tools on his staff and kept on expressing his concern for ‘academic freedom’ – and so this debate will have to continue with the university.
NZAVS also held a ‘thinktank’ meeting with core supporters of the Stop the Otago Animal Lab campaign! We came up with lots of ideas for the future of the campaign. Watch this space!
While in Dunedin, NZAVS Campaign Manager Cressida also had a meeting with the Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing, Dr Helena Hogberg. Dr Hogberd is a neuroscientist who has helped the Centre develop ‘mini-brains’ for the purposes of testing neurological treatments. She also gave a talk at Animal-Law Week 2017, a week of events put on by our friends at the Otago Student Animal Legal Defense Fund every year. Dr Hogberg was very interested in how a Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing might be implemented in New Zealand.
We at NZAVS think this would be a much more sensible plan for the new $50 million lab site and would ensure that the best, most relevant human-based research was conducted at the University!