Animal experimentation in New Zealand
In NZ animals manipulated for claimed scientific purposes are categorised by the government into three groups — research, testing and teaching (RTT).
While we are opposed to most research, testing and teaching methods involving animals, not all cases involve animal experimentation or are harmful therefore, we are not opposed to 100% of these cases.
For example, using a non-harmful tag and release research method on Kiwis for conservation purposes or vet nurses being taught how to handle animals correctly with someone’s dog or cat fall under the scope of being considered research, testing or teaching methods using animals in NZ. These examples would not be considered animal experimentation and we wouldn't be actively opposed to them.
What are animals used for?
The use of animals for research, testing and teaching purposes is very broad and our position varies on each case depending on the scientific and ethical factors involved.
One of the easiest ways to illustrate the wide-ranging use of animals for claimed scientific purposes is by looking at Dr Ray Greeks nine uses of animals in science.
What animals were used for in NZ during 2016:
- Veterinary research (research aimed at improving the health and welfare of production and companion animals): 58,365
- Testing (animals used for public health testing or to try and test the safety, efficacy or quality of products to meet regulatory requirements for human or animal products, either in New Zealand or internationally): 53,123
- Basic biological research: 45,471
- Teaching (animals used for teaching or instruction, at any level): 30,396
- Production of biological agents (Animals used for raising antibodies or for the supply of blood products): 25,717
- Medical research (research aimed at improving the health and welfare of humans, but not research on human subjects): 16,542
- Animal husbandry research (animal husbandry, including reproduction, nutrition, growth and production): 11,926
- Environmental management research (environmental management, including the control of animals deemed as pests and research into methods of reducing the production of greenhouse gases): 7447
- 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): 4453
- Other (manipulations for purposes other than those listed): 949
- Development of alternatives (work aimed at developing methods to replace or reduce the use of live animals in research, testing and teaching): 64
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 to enhance animal agriculture in NZ.
How many animals are used for experimentation in NZ?
Approximately 300,000 animals are used for research, testing and teaching (RTT) in NZ every year.
What are the most common animals used for research, testing and teaching in NZ?
The most commonly used animals for RTT in 2016 were cows, sheep, fish, mice and birds.
Who uses animals for RTT in NZ?
At least 139 different facilities across NZ use animals for RTT.
We don't have a complete list of all the facilities who use animals for RTT in NZ. We only have access to the list of facilities which had an approved code of ethical conduct or had a notified arrangements to use an approved code in 2016 here. This list has 139 organisations/companies on it.
Institutes using animals in NZ could use another facility's code of conduct and AEC and withhold their information from being accessible under the OIA, making it hard to tell if they are using animals for RTT. It is, therefore, possible that more than 139 facilities are experimenting on animals in NZ.
How do we know how many animals are used for research, testing and teaching in NZ?
An annual report on the number of animals used for RTT in NZ is compiled and released by the NZ government. The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is responsible for producing this report accurately and for making it available to the public.
Each year, by the end of February, every facility in NZ that uses animals for RTT is meant to provide MPI with information including:
- The number of animals used that year for RTT
- 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.
To obtain any further information on a particular experiment, we have to request it under the Official Information Act (OIA). Private companies aren't subject to the OIA which means we can only request extra information from public institutes (schools, universities etc.). This is a timely process and more often than not, institutes refuse to give us the information we have asked for. Unfortunately, animal experimentation is a well-hidden industry which is likely one of the reasons the outdated and cruel practice still exists.
The animal usage statistics captured annually by the NZ Government are the closest estimate to the total number of animals used for animal experimentation in NZ that currently exists. These include the number of live "animals" used for RTT (research, testing and teaching procedures where animals have been "manipulated").
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), and 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 for example:
- In Australia, it includes any live non-human vertebrate (that is, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, encompassing domestic animals, purpose-bred animals, livestock, 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.
"Manipulation" of animals
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 statistics for animals used for RTT in NZ.
Note: 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.
Once the 2018 information is available (towards the end of 2019) we will know how many animals have been used (over this year) for these purposes in NZ for the first time. Therefore we will likely see a significant increase in the number of animals used in NZ for RTT.