How Do We Know How Many Animals Are Used for Science in NZ?

How Do We Know How Many Animals Are Used for Science in NZ?

The NZ Government provides some information about how animals are used for science in NZ. 

Info provided by the NZ Government: 

The NZ government produces an annual report on the number of animals used for research, testing and teaching (RTT) in NZ. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is responsible for producing this report accurately and making it available to the public. 

These reports are available on the MPI website.

To obtain further information not included in these reports, we have to specifically ask for it under the Official Information Act (OIA).

Private companies aren't subject to the OIA, so they aren't required to give us any information. We can only request extra information from public institutes (schools, universities etc.). This is a timely process; more often than not, institutes refuse to give us the information we have requested.


Animals included in the reports:

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 defines an animal as any live member of the animal kingdom that is a mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish (bony or cartilaginous), octopus, squid, crab, lobster or crayfish (including freshwater crayfish). It includes any marsupial pouch young or mammalian foetus, or any avian or reptilian pre-hatched young, that is in the last half of its period of gestation or development.

Any living organism that falls outside of the above definition isn't protected by the Animal Welfare Act and therefore isn't counted in the annual statistics for animals used for RTT in NZ. 


The definition of animal varies from country to country: 

In Australia, it includes any live non-human vertebrate (fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, encompassing domestic animals, purpose-bred animals, livestock, and wildlife) and cephalopods but with some variation by state. 

In the US, it includes warm-blooded animals but excludes birds, rats and mice bred for use in research.


The type of procedures included in the reports:

The definition of "manipulation" under the Animal Welfare Act means interfering with an animal’s normal physiology, behaviour, or anatomy. It includes subjecting an animal to unusual or abnormal practices (e.g. exposure to parasites, microorganisms, drugs, chemicals, biological products, radiation, electrical stimulation or environmental conditions, enforced activity, restraint, nutrition, or surgical intervention) or depriving it of its usual care. Read the full definition here. 

Animals that are used for something outside of the above definition aren't included in the annual reports.


Important updates made to the government reports:

In 2018 the reporting system changed, and animals killed for dissection and animals used for some (not all) breeding purposes will now be included and counted in these annual statistics.

On 1st January 2018, the definition of manipulation in the Animal Welfare Act was expanded to include:

  • the killing of animals (other than in a wild state) for the purpose of performing RTT on that animal’s body or tissues. 
  • the breeding or production of an animal using any breeding technique (including genetic modification) that may result in the birth or production of an animal that is more susceptible to, or at greater risk of, pain or distress during its life as a result of the breeding or production.

In 2019, institutes had to start reporting on the number of animals bred for research, testing or teaching, not used and subsequently killed. 

Although the above changes are positive steps towards better transparency, there is still a long way to go before this industry is properly open and accessible to the public. 


We have a transparency problem

It's hard to find out exactly what happens to the many animals used for science in NZ. Without the ability to properly scrutinise what is happening in animal experiments, there can be no informed discussion about how we can move beyond the harmful use of animals in science! 

Some of the main problems include: 

  • Institutes using animals for science don't have to publicly publish or share their findings, and there is no nationwide database tracking how and why animals were used. This means that animal experiments could be repeated by different institutes. 
  • Animal ethics committees (the groups of people approving the use of animals in science) don't share information. One committee could replace the use of animals in an experiment without anyone else knowing or benefiting from this information. 
  • Institutes aren't open about how they use animals and they don't have to be. 
  • There is no registration process in place for institutes providing animals for science, leaving animals vulnerable. 

Animal experimentation thrives when it is kept secret. We work to open the doors and cast light on the cruel practices that are inflicted upon animals.

By demanding transparency and openness, we can change the public conversation. Over time, this will help put significant pressure to move away from the harmful use of animals for science..

The more light we can shed on these practices, the faster we will end animal experimentation!