There are still legal requirements for animal testing in NZ law. Thanks to the support of LUSH, we were able to commission a legal review of the current requirements for animal testing in NZ law, so now we know exactly what outdated laws we need to change first. Find out more about the requirements for animal testing in NZ here.
Animal use for research, testing and teaching (science) is legal in NZ if certain conditions are met.
The use of animals for science is regulated by NZ law - the Animal Welfare Act 1999. The relevant section of this Act is Part 6, The Use of Animals in Research, Testing and Teaching.
The Animal Welfare Act is what gives animals in NZ legal protection. However, animals used for research, testing and teaching are not given the same rights or protections as other animals. In fact, Part 6 of the Act gives exemptions to most requirements in the Animal Welfare Act.
This means that animals used for science are left vulnerable and can be used in ways that would usually be considered illegal.
How animals can be used for science
Organisations wanting to use animals for science must meet the following requirements:
- Have a Code of Ethical Conduct that has been approved by the NZ government. This sets out the policies and procedures that should be followed by the person or organisation and its animal ethics committee. For an example, see the Code of Ethical Conduct for the University of Auckland, Ag Research and the Department of Conservation. People or organisations can use another facility's approved Code of Ethical Conduct.
- Have an animal ethics committee or have an arrangement with another facility to use theirs. Animal ethics committees approve and monitor the use of animals for science. Read more about what they do below.
- Provide information about animals they use for science to the NZ Government each year. For example, they must submit annual statistics on the number of animals used for research, testing and teaching to the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI). These figures are collated and reported annually by MPI. You can access these here.
For the most part, it is left up to animal ethics committees, appointed by their organisations, to decide how animals can be used.
However, there are legal exceptions, including:
- Only research, testing and teaching involving "animals", as defined by the Animal Welfare Act, requires approval from an animal ethics committee. Any living organism that falls outside that scope doesn't require animal ethics committee approval in NZ.
- Only research, testing and teaching that involves the ‘manipulation’ of animals, as defined by the Animal Welfare Act, requires approval from an animal ethics committee. Any procedure that falls outside that scope doesn't require animal ethics committee approval in NZ.
Manipulation essentially means interfering with the normal physiological, behavioural, or anatomical integrity of an animal by deliberately subjecting them to an abnormal procedure like exposing them to a drug or chemical, or electrical stimulation, forcing them into activity or restraint or depriving the animal of usual care.
Manipulation also includes:
- Killing an animal for research, testing, or teaching for its body or tissues.
- Breeding animals with a greater risk of pain or distress (for example, to research hereditary medical conditions).
The full definition of ‘manipulation' can be found in section 3 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.
The following do not require animal ethics committee approval:
- School, classroom or student pets, including pet days where appropriate animal care is given.
- Observations of behaviour (provided the presence of people does not interfere with normal behaviour, for example, animals giving birth are often affected by the presence of people).
- Observations of body structure and function.
- Measurement of growth, e.g., regular weighing to chart a growth curve.
- Identification of diet preferences and food “treats”.
- Observation of animal response to different cage equipment such as tubes, platforms, and ramps.
- Breeding to teach reproduction and development.
- Routine animal care and handling techniques, including routine farm husbandry practices.
The above list was sourced from the New Zealand Association of Science Educators.
Bans in place — In NZ, it is illegal to:
Test cosmetics on animals: Thanks to campaigning from multiple organisations like NZAVS and thousands of individuals, testing cosmetics on animals in New Zealand has been banned. Unfortunately, products tested on animals overseas are still allowed to be sold here. You can read more about it here.
- Test legal highs on animals: Our campaign to ban testing psychoactive substances on animals, such as party pills, was a huge success. With the help of several other organisations, we persuaded the government to leave animal data out of testing for psychoactive substances – that means even experiments conducted overseas cannot be used for approval of New Zealand psychoactive substances. You can read more about it here.
- Test on gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, or orangutans: No person may carry out any research, testing, or teaching involving the use of a nonhuman hominid unless such use has first been approved by the Director-General who must abide by additional criteria. Non-human hominid means any non-human member of the family Hominidae, being a gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo, or orangutan.
How animal use is governed
Animal Ethics Committees
Animal ethics committees have the most power over the use of animals for science in NZ. The NZ Government leaves it up to these committees to approve and monitor the use of animals for research, testing and teaching. Remember that the committees are appointed by the organisations wanting to run experiments – they are not appointed by an independent governing body.
There are 25 animal ethics committees in NZ, and they are all run independently of one another.
Note: Some institutions, because of their geographic spread, operate more than one committee. In addition, another 118 institutions engaging in research, testing, or teaching involving animals use another institution’s AEC rather than forming their own.
People can apply to use animals for a specific project by filling in and submitting an application to an animal ethics committee. These applications include what individuals want to do with the animals and why. The format of applications is not the same for each animal ethics committee so not all committees are asking for or considering the same things.
Each animal ethics committee consists of at least four members, including:
- a nominee of an approved animal welfare organisation (the only such approved organisation being the SPCA)
- a nominee of the New Zealand Veterinary Association, and
- a layperson nominated by a local body.
However, ultimately it is the organisations conducting the animal experiments that assemble the committee.
Code holders and their animal ethics committees are independently reviewed by Ministry for Primary Industries accredited reviewers at least once every 5 years. Find out more about accredited reviewers here.
The government’s role
The NZ Government isn’t very involved in directly overseeing animal use for science. One of the responsibilities of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is to oversee part 6 of the Animal Welfare Act, but in practice, they:
- Collate statistics and report on the number of animals used for science each year.
- Respond to complaints if/when they are made.
- Review code holders and their animal ethics committees every five years.
Approximately 300,000 animals are used for science each year in New Zealand. That means around 1.5 million animals will be used per 5-year audit cycle. Do you think this is enough to ensure animals are protected? Because we don’t!
The National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee
Animal Ethics Committees are overseen by the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC).
NAEAC is appointed to provide independent advice to the Minister of the Ministry for Primary Industries, the Ministry for Primary Industries, animal ethics committees and others relating to the use of animals in research, testing and teaching.
NAEAC is made up of a chairperson and up to nine other members.
Calling for change:
NZAVS is campaigning to reform the entire sector. There are so many areas we could improve – check out our Striking at the Source campaign to see what we are currently working on.