Animal experiments rise in 2014, more rodents and rabbits used

As well as being pets, guinea pigs are extensively used in research.

As well as being pets, guinea pigs are extensively used in research.

A surge in animal use for research, testing and teaching has been condemned by the New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS).

A Ministry for Primary Industries report shows that in 2014, 310,287 animals were used for research in New Zealand, a 38.5 per cent increase on 2013, when numbers fell to their lowest since 1997.

Mice had the highest mortality rate at 97 per cent, followed by guinea pigs (95 per cent), possums (94 per cent), rats (92 per cent) and rabbits (91 per cent).

Cattle were the most used animals for research, with experiments conducted on 75,496. They were followed by mice, sheep and fish.

Livestock - cattle, sheep, deer, goats and pigs - made up 48 per cent of the total.  

NZAVS Executive Director Stephen Manson said his organisation was concerned about the big increase in the use of rodents and rabbits for medical research.

"We've seen that those research models aren't working. They use rats for experiments in drug addiction but assuming patients will react like they are 80kg rats is not a sound foundation for medical research," Manson said.

Overseas they were used for P and ecstasy addiction research but there was no information about what they were used for in New Zealand.  

The increase in use of animals was not unexpected but it was disappointing.

"It confirms what we knew  – the low was a one-off glitch and the animal ethics committee is failing in its supposed aim of replacing and reducing animal use for research and testing in New Zealand," Manson said. 

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MPI said that, while numbers were up on the previous year,  that was because of the three-yearly cycle of reporting of long-term projects.

It said reports of the numbers of animals used in long-term projects were not required annually but rather every three years, when the project was completed or when ethics approval expired.

"A truer reflection of overall use is given by the three-year rolling average, down slightly in 2014," MPI said.

The MPI report says that more than 83 per cent of animals were exposed to manipulations which had no, virtually no, or little impact on the animals' welfare.

A total of 10,400 animals (3.4 per cent of the total) experienced manipulations of "high impact" or "very high impact", 5372 fewer than in 2013, and the lowest number in these two categories under the current legislation.

The species that experienced a "very high" impact were rodents, pest species, cattle (16), sheep (8) and cephalopod/crustacea.

Manson said MPI had changed the terminology in its report. In the past it had referred to a high degree of suffering but now referred to "very high impact".

He said the report highlighted "some disturbing information", with animals becoming fly-struck during an experiment and high levels of suffering of animals used in drug addiction studies.

"Over half the animals used in New Zealand in 2014 were by universities and CRIs. Our taxes are funding this yet information on exactly what they are doing and why isn't publicly available.

"We're still awaiting an investigation by the Ombudsman after Massey University refused to release any information about the 106 dogs used in medical research and the 79 used for product testing in 2013," Manson said.

 - Stuff

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