Uni won't come clean over lab tests

Lincoln University is refusing to comment on its animal testing regime as it "would be likely to endanger the safety of staff".

Lincoln - about 25km from Christchurch - prides itself on "world-class research" and its website states "no other university in New Zealand has a higher rate of research dollars per full-time member of academic staff".

But its Vice-Chancellor, Andrew West, has cited staff safety in declining to answer the specifics of an Official Information Act request on whether the university had employed a testing procedure condemned by animal-rights groups and banned in other countries.

New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society national office manager Stephen Manson recently wrote to New Zealand's seven universities asking if they had approved or carried out any Lethal Dose 50 (LD50) tests in the past five years.

The LD50 testing method sees 50 per cent of each trial group of animals, often including dogs and rats, die. The test is banned in many member nations of the OECD, including the UK.

Officials from the University of Auckland, the University of Otago, Massey University, the University of Canterbury and Victoria University all responded, saying they don't use LD50 trials.

Waikato University acknowledged holding two LD50 trials involving the invasive pest fish koi carp. Approval had been given for a third trial that had not yet gone ahead.

But Lincoln University is refusing to confirm or deny its testing, with West saying releasing such information "would be likely to endanger the safety of staff".

"Researchers involved in animal manipulations have specifically requested that such information is not released, because their safety would be threatened, given inappropriate use of similar information in the past," West wrote.

He wrote that any identification of staff working on animal trials would open them "up to improper pressure and harassment from certain members of the public".

It could also "lead to difficulties in recruiting suitable staff to monitor the compliance of projects in respect to animal welfare".

West wrote that he did not accept that any public interest in Lincoln's testing regimen would outweigh "the right to its staff to be protected from improper pressure of harrassment".

His October 16 letter added that the refusal shouldn't "be construed as an acknowledgement that LD50 testing has been carried out" there.

Lincoln said it was "not in a position" to elaborate further when contacted by the Sunday Star-Times for comment.

Manson said historical cases of "harassment" were "few and far between", adding he was not aware of such behaviour since the 1990s.

Manson said since Lincoln University was taxpayer funded, it had a moral right to be transparent regarding its research activities.

"Access to information from taxpayer funded institutions is vital," he said.

"We aren't interested in harassing people and expect individuals' names to be removed from information released.

"It's irrelevant to the scientific debate. We are wanting to challenge them on the scientific validity of what they are doing and to hold them accountable.

"Our taxes pay for a lot of animal testing and we should be able to find out what our money is being spent on, the public has an interest in animal testing and a right to know what is going on."

Manson wrote to the seven universities after reading a science blog that mentioned a New Zealand university conducting LD50 tests on rats.

While Lincoln refused to comment on its activities, Waikato University confirmed in a statement that it had carried out two LD50 tests involving koi carp.

Twelve months ago the Sunday Star-Times revealed that a briefing paper to Government over a possible testing regime for legal highs suggested consideration be given to using the LD50 method.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, who headed the Government's crackdown on party pills, said it was "unavoidable" animals would be subjected to testing, including possible LD50 tests.

After a public outcry resulting from our story, Dunne ruled out the use of the LD50 method.

Sunday Star Times