Does vivisection still happen in NZ?
Yes, approximately 300,000 animals are used for research, testing and teaching in NZ every year. This figure doesn’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 we estimate that if these animals were included, the number of animals used every year would be doubled.
What do you mean animals in breeding facilities aren’t counted?
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 the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).
Note: From the 1st January 2018, facilities will have to report the killing of animals that were bred, but not used for research, testing and teaching (RTT) purposes in their annual statistical returns due to the changes made by the Animal Welfare Amendment Act 2015.
How do we know how many animals are used in NZ?
Up until 2014 NAEAC (The National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee) released an annual report which stated how many animals were used for research, testing and teaching in NZ, what the animals were used for and who did the testing for the previous year. After that/now this report no longer includes the annual animal use statistics. These are now published separately on the MPI website. The information for 2016 can be found here
NAEAC is often confused with NAWAC (The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee).
Each year, by the end of February, every facility in NZ that uses animals for RTT has to provide MPI with a report stating the number of animals that they used that year (along with several other details). NZAVS then send out Official Information Act requests to the government to get copies of the animal manipulation forms that each facility has to give the government annually. These forms contain info such as:
- The source of the animals used
- The status of the animal (i.e. normal/conventional, diseased, unborn/pre-hatched etc),
- The reason for manipulation (i.e. teaching, species conservation, medical research, testing etc)
- If the animals had been used before
- The level/grade of impact the animals experience (varies from no impact to very high impact)
- What happened to the animals if they were alive at the end of the experiment and the reason for death if the animals died.
We can then send another Official Information Act request to facilities that we are interested in to obtain copies of their application forms to their animal ethics committee. This lets us see slightly more detail on individual experiments involving animals at each facility.
Note: Facilities that are privately owned are not subject to the Official Information Act. We, therefore, don’t know a lot about the research going on in these facilities, and can only speculate from the facility’s annual report.
What are Animal Ethics Committees?
Every facility in NZ using animals for research, testing and teaching (including privately owned facilities), has to have a Code of Ethical Conduct and either an Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) or an arrangement with another facility to use their AEC.
The code of ethical conduct has to be approved by MPI and it is essentially a list of things that a facility promises to do. Only once a code of conduct is put in place can a facility then use animals for research, testing and teaching. Then each facility needs to establish an Animal Ethics Committee or find another facility that will allow them to use theirs. There are approximately 120 facilities with approved codes of ethical conduct in NZ, but only approximately 30 ethics committees, so there are quite a few facilities sharing Animal Ethics Committees (Note: some facilities have a code of ethical conduct but don’t use animals. Some of the reports given to NAEAC annually have a null return, but this is a small minority).
Every time a facility wants to use animals for RTT (research, testing & teaching), they have to get approval from their Animal Ethics Committee by submitting an application and getting it approved. These applications basically include what individuals are wanting to do with the animals and why. (There is no consistent application for every Animal Ethics Committee). This is one of the problems with Animal Ethics Committees — they aren’t asking for or considering, the same things.
Each Animal Ethics Committee consists of at least 4 members including an independent vet, a layperson nominated by a local body, and a nominee of an approved animal welfare organisation (the only such approved organisation being SPCAs). According to the MPI website, their purpose is “to weigh the benefits of the proposed RTT against the welfare cost to animals in considering applications, stipulate appropriate conditions, monitors compliance with approvals and monitor animal management practices and facilities“.
Animal Ethics Committees are overseen by NAEAC (The National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee). NAEAC is appointed to provide independent advice to the Minister of MPI, MPI, AECs, and others relating to the use of animals in RTT. NAEAC is made up of a chairperson and up to 9 other members. Members are chosen for their expertise and need a range of knowledge and experience in the use of animals for research.
Who uses animals for RTT in NZ?
A total of 139 facilities used animals for research, testing or teaching in 2016. These include both private and government-owned facilities.
Acess the full the list of facilities who have an Approved Code of Ethical Conduct or have Notified Arrangements to Use an Approved Code (This information was provided by MPI) in 2016 here.
What are animals used for and how many are used? (From the 2016 data set):
Basic biological research: 45,471
Veterinary research: 58,365
Animal husbandry research: 11,926
Medical research: 16,542
Environmental management research: 7447
Species conservation: 4453
Production of biological agents: 25,717
Development of alternatives: 64
The definitions of these purposes (taken from the MPI Report — Statistics on the Use of Animals in Research, Testing and Teaching in New Zealand in 2016 ):
Teaching: Animals used for teaching or instruction, at any level.
Species conservation: Work directed towards species conservation. The species to be conserved may or may not be directly involved, e.g. nutrition studies using more common species can benefit an endangered species.
Environmental management: Environmental management, including the control of animal pests and research into methods of reducing production of greenhouse gases.
Animal husbandry: Animal husbandry, including reproduction, nutrition, growth and production.
Basic biological research: Basic biological research.
Medical research: Research aimed at improving the health and welfare of humans, but not research on human subjects.
Veterinary research: Research aimed at improving the health and welfare of production and companion animals.
Testing: Animals used for public health testing or to ensure the safety, efficacy or quality of products to meet regulatory requirements for human or animal products, either in New Zealand or internationally.
Production of biological agents: Animals used for raising antibodies or for the supply of blood products.
Development of alternatives: Work aimed at developing methods to replace or reduce the use of live animals in research, testing and teaching.
Other: Manipulations for purposes other than those listed above.
Note: The main reasons for animal testing globally are generally for product safety testing and biomedical research (developing new drugs and medicines). The exception is in NZ, where a large proportion of animals used for research, testing and teaching are used for the purpose of enhancing animal agriculture in NZ.
What are the most common animals used for RTT (research, testing and teaching) in NZ?
The most commonly used animals for RTT in NZ:
Are there any laws in NZ put in place to reduce animal testing?
Medsafe are the New Zealand Medicines and Medical Devices Safety Authority and, as such, are responsible for the regulation of medicines and medical devices in New Zealand.
Medsafe has nothing in their regulations that specifically ask for animal data. In practice, however, it is highly unlikely that they would accept anything that doesn’t have animal data available.
It is very difficult for a new medicine or drug to progress to the clinical trial stage, (human trials), without animal trials first happening in NZ. This is not due to any set regulations but simply because of convention.
This doesn’t mean that medical students, for example, have to use animals in the developmental stage of their research. Medsafe is mainly concerned with safety/toxicity and efficacy testing after a potential treatment has been developed, not what the research is fundamentally based on.
Internationally it is different; the FDA in America has a requirement to see animal data (they specify that two species of animals are to be tested on). A new treatment or medical device being exported from NZ to America has to have animal data to show that the product is safe (even though we know that this isn’t actually what animal-based experiments show). Again, this absolutely does not mean that research needs to be based off an animal model.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) also set out regulations that many countries around the world, including NZ, follow. The OECD was developed in 1961 to “promote policies that will improve the economic and social well-being of people around the world.”
The OECD helps prevent the repetition of testing via MAD, an international agreement that was developed as an attempt to standardize regulatory testing for drugs.
They also have a series of guidelines for regulators to make safety testing systems for substances (chemicals, drugs etc).
Ultimately, the regulations set out by the FDA and the OECD create the skeleton by which countries adhere their regulatory systems to. The FDA and the OECD play a big part in the continuation of animal-based research.
What do we need to do?
There is no straightforward path to abolishing vivisection. There are many different factors that influence and permit vivisection.
It, therefore, makes sense that we need to target these different areas simultaneously to make a difference!
NZAVS, along with many other anti-vivisection and pro-human-based research organisations around the world, collectively work together to:
- Push the Government to be more accepting of non-animal based methods for safety testing and encourage them to promote non-animal based methods more (i.e. providing more incentives for researchers) and also to put more funding into these methods.
- Push the Government to help decrease the lack of transparency with information around animal experimentation and to enforce tighter regulations regarding the use of animals used in research to ensure that non-animal methods are being sought at all times. In NZ, this mainly comes down to the Animal Ethics Committees and their lack of knowledge around non-animal based methods of research.
- Spread public awareness on the issue of vivisection and the scientific limitations involved when doing animal-based research.
- Educate researchers and facilities that use animals for research, testing and teaching that there are better, more humane and relevant methods.
- Put pressure on companies and industries that directly profit from animal-based research, like pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies, and also on researchers etc.
Why does outreach and educating the public matter?
If everyone knew how scientifically flawed animal-based research is, then it would quickly lose its social license.
Researchers doing animal-based research, government representatives and members of the general public often believe that animal-based research is necessary to save human lives. They believe this with little or no evidence, simply because that is what they are taught by the industry.
To abolish vivisection, we need to teach more people the truth about vivisection and inform them that there are many other, more relevant and reliable non-animal methods that could either be used or developed in place of cruel and outdated animal-based tests!
That’s a big part of our job at NZAVS!
NZAVS can make more of a difference, the more help we have. You can support our work here