Animal Ethics Committees are part of an extremely flawed system. Being inconsistent with their decision making is just one example of the many flaws that exist within these decision making groups.
Animal Ethics Committees are responsible for permitting research, testing and testing involving animals in NZ (any facility with a code of ethical conduct has to have an animal ethics committee or has to have access to a shared AEC). People often believe that animal testing must be humane if it has been given approval by these AECs. We are yet to be convinced that this is true — members on AECs in NZ are not experts on the many non-animal based methods that exist.
If AECs were really doing their job, we believe that no animals would be used each year in NZ for RTT. This is because there are many viable non-animal based research methods and where there are gaps, there is room for more developments that start from a more relevant and applicable starting point (i.e. human-based research to cure human disease and illness).
An example of their inconsistently:
The LD50 test is an outdated and generally abandoned acute toxicity testing method developed in 1927. Banned in the UK and not recognised by the OECD since 2001 this test is, with a few exceptions, universally condemned as being outdated, based on bad science and cruel.
It has been generally accepted that the LD50 test had never been carried out in New Zealand and indeed University of Canterbury Professor of Toxicology Ian Shaw stated recently that "such tests are not carried out any more".1 Even as far back as 1991 pro-vivisection lobbyist, and now the New Zealand Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman said in evidence to a government select committee:
"It's an ancient test used for killing where you test the toxicity of a drug by raising the dose in rats until 50% of them had died from that dose. That test hasn't ever been performed in New Zealand as far as we can ascertain, there were alternatives that were developed a long time ago."
He said this in response to an NZAVS petition against vivisection that would have banned the LD50 test. His reason for not supporting it was that it was an outdated test that was not done here and that there was no reason to ban something so ancient and obsolete. So imagine our surprise when, on reviewing the commentary of the controversy around the proposed animal testing of legal highs, we came across this comment on Sciblogs from late 2012 by the Masterton based toxicologist Rosalind Dalefield:
This was the first evidence that this test had ever been performed in New Zealand and is counter to the common belief that it has never been done here in New Zealand. Here we have someone proudly claiming they had done the LD50 test within the last five years on more than one occasion. More evidence was needed so an Official Information Act (OIA) request was sent to universities asking if their Animal Ethics Committee had given approvals for the LD50 test in the last five years and if it had been carried out. The responses are summarised here:
Auckland University: NO
Otago University: NO
Massey University: NO
Victoria University: NO
Canterbury University: NO; and added that the AEC is of the view that the LD50 test does not conform to the 3Rs. This means they would not grant approvals for it to be done. Lincoln University: Would not answer as they felt to do so would put the safety of their staff at risk.
Waikato University: YES, approved three times and carried out twice. We got the first confirmation a test considered outdated decades ago is getting approvals to be performed here in New Zealand. The LD50 test is condemned by all sides of the animal testing debate as invalid as well as cruel yet Waikato, and maybe Lincoln, have approved it and carried it out recently. Importantly this shows that the AECS can, and do, take completely different stances on what is acceptable and what is not.
Now jump forward to 2015...
Minister for Primary Industries Nathan Guy claims that a ban on animal testing of cosmetics is not required as it is not done here and that the ethics committees are unlikely to approve any such tests. Sound familiar?
1991 - no need to ban the LD50 test as it is not done here; over twenty years later and we have evidence the LD50 test was done multiple times recently.
2015 - no need to ban cosmetics animal testing as it is not done here and wouldn't be allowed by an AEC; and in how many years will we have evidence of it being done here?
How can the Minister and the public have any confidence that cosmetics testing on animals won't happen if left totally up to the AEC approval process? The short, and obvious, answer is that we can't.
Green Party MP Mojo Mathers raised these very issues in Parliament today (March 26 2015) using the documents linked to above which we have now made publicly available. Watch this here
We can only hope that the government does what it said it was going to do today and considers the amendment closely and realises that it can be passed as any unintended consequences have been dealt with in the updated amendment and then passes it!