As most of you will know every year the total number of all animals used for vivisection is published the following year. The National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC) put this information in their annual report. The number fluctuates around an average of approximately 300,000.
What is not published is the number of animals used for breeding or that are bred and then not used in vivisection. The 300,000 is in reality only a portion of the animals used. Many spend their short lives in a small plastic container in a vivisectors breeding unit before being killed and disposed of as they are excess to requirements and their lives aren’t even counted by the government.
Animal housing at Auckland University. This is where the thousands of rats and mice used there spend their short lives before being killed in experiments:
So how many animals are actually used? NAEAC attempted to get some idea of this in 2011. They carried out a survey of the 30 Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) that the over 100 organisations using animals use. We asked NAEAC for this information using the Official Information Act. And what did we discover?
Firstly, only 11 responses were received! Of those 11 only three had any data on the number of animals. Of the three just one response had information on the animals the breeding unit killed as excess.
The one facility of 30 that gave data of value killed 250% more animals as excess than were used in research. If that is extrapolated across all of New Zealand then that’s around 750,000 animals.
One response from 30 is not enough information to be of any use. It is quite telling that even NAEAC, the government advisory committee that oversees all AECs in NZ got such limited information. Almost two thirds of all AECs didn’t even respond to them. The level of accountability and lack of oversight are shocking.
The as good as useless data collected by NAEAC made it clear we’d have to do our own research on this matter. We were limited to only being able to compel responses from those facilities subject to the Official Information Act. Even so, we got ten responses, eight of which included useful data. Straight away we had a much bigger sample to base our research on than the government had.
The two facilities that we didn’t get useful responses from were Landcare Research and Lincoln University. Landcare did not have a breeding unit of their own, and sourced animals from outside their facility, so had no information to provide. Lincoln claimed that while they breed rats and other animals for research it was not on a big enough scale to be considered a breeding unit so they did not need to reply as we’d asked for data relating to breeding units. While this struck as a particularly weak and ridiculous excuse – one reply with data was about breeding from only four animals – we decided not to contest this as we already had a good data set. Lincoln University is consistently difficult and obstructive when it comes to releasing information but that’s another story… which you can read more about here.
What we Discovered
The data from the eight facilities had figures from ten different species, a total of 147,693 animals held in breeding facilities. Of those 68,983 – 46.7% – were used in research, testing and teaching (RTT). If that proportion is consistent then that means that for the 300,000 animals we know were recorded by MPI at least that many again were used to breed from or were excess bred.
The portion of those bred and then used varied greatly – from 10% (transgenic Zebra Fish at the University of Auckland) to 90% (a strain of mice used by Auckland University of Technology).
We asked what the fate was for the animals bred and not used and those that were kept to breed from. The only exceptions to being killed were the cattle and goats sold, those retained to breed more animals from, and a small number of egg producing chickens rehomed.
Almost as an after-thought we also requested copies of photos of the breeding facilities. University of Auckland and AgResearch provided a small number, the two from the University of Auckland are above. The photos of AgResearch’s animal housing are below:
SPF (Specific Pathogen Free – this is a term used to describe animals that are guaranteed to be free of certain diseases e.g. influenza) area: