Today NZ Universities across the country have received a 'Thank you card' signed by thousands of New Zealanders, commending these institutes on exercising their power to steer clear of the Forced Swim Test.
The 'Thank you card' arranged by NZAVS (The New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society) was sent to all NZ Universities with a special hand delivery to the Victoria University of Wellington, who the NZAVS campaigned against, for more than a year, to stop using the Forced Swim Test.
This hand delivery took place to voice a special message of thanks from the Executive Director of NZAVS to the university.
The Forced Swim Test (FST) is an animal test that involves small animals, such as rats or mice, being made to swim in an inescapable beaker of water to measure their response to the threat of drowning. Some researchers use the test as a misguided attempt to mimic depression or hopelessness in humans. The FST has been scrutinised here and internationally for its lack of validity.
NZAVS has been working to end the use of this animal test in NZ for several years now and by doing so, challenges the NZ Government's Animal Welfare Strategy that prides itself on keeping pace with 'changes in scientific knowledge, good practice, available technology and our society'.
Tara Jackson, Executive Director of NZAVS, explains:
"Even though the Forced Swim Test is archaic and unreliable, the NZ Government did not want to ban the use of the test, so its use is still permitted here. This means it's now up to the individual animal ethics committees nationwide if they decide to use the test or not."
"We have put a lot of work into collaborating with these committees and educating the scientific industry as a whole about the invalidity of this test. As a result, we are now seeing fantastic results from this approach. By steering clear of this test at their institutes, universities are proactively keeping pace with science and our society, whilst the government is now lagging behind by not banning the test outright. That is not a good place to be as a supposed 'global leader in animal welfare'."
Two universities, the University of Otago and the Victoria University of Wellington, have used the Forced Swim Test in the past. NZAVS contacted them and all other NZ universities to find out if they have recently used or approved the use of the Forced Swim Test, and none have.
Notably, the Victoria University of Wellington Animal Ethics Committee rejected an application for the use of the Forced Swim Test on the grounds that its use could not be 'justified'.
The response from the Deputy Chair of the Victoria University of Wellington Animal Ethics Committee stated:
"As an AEC (animal ethics committee), we evaluate each application based on the current scientific data. As scientific knowledge improves, and with the continuous strides towards Replacement and Refinement in animal research, a range of alternatives will continue to be developed for the many areas in which the FST was typically used……We respect the views of NZAVS, and while we don't always agree, the debate is healthy and helps advance best practice in animal ethics."
To this end, Miss Jackson concludes:
"This committee's response clearly signals a desire and ability to be progressive and adjust when new scientific evidence is put forward, so for that; we commend Victoria University of Wellington."
"Together, with thousands of caring Kiwis, we can encourage animal ethics committees to continue to evaluate the use of the Forced Swim Test and other animal tests. This is a powerful yet positive way to encourage the scientific community to embrace progress and remind them that they're heading in the right direction. Now is the time for the NZ Government to get on the university bus and ban the Forced Swim Test outright in Aotearoa."
*Banner photo: Tara Jackson, NZAVS Executive Director, with Dr Bart Ellenbroek, Professor of Psychology and member of the Animal Ethics Committee at the Victoria University of Wellington, at the official thank you card handover.