No guarantee that animals safe from party pill tests

NEIL REID
Last updated 05:00 03/03/2013

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The use of animals to test the safety of legal highs - including party pills and synthetic cannabis - is still on the cards despite vehement protests.

The Sunday Star-Times revealed last December that animal testing was being considered following the Government's crackdown on designer drugs.

At the time Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said that "the hard truth is that, scientifically, animal testing is unavoidable to prove that products are safe for human beings".

The Government has now published its proposed 35-page Psychoactive Substances Bill. The bill will put the onus on drug-manufacturers to prove the products are safe, whereas now the Government has to prove they are harmful before taking them off the shelves.

The bill does not address the methods of testing compounds to see if they're safe for human use. That will be decided by a psychoactive substances expert advisory committee.

Dunne yesterday said that non-animal testing "alternatives" were being looked at but he could give no guarantee that animals would not be used in testing the safety of recreational drugs.

"All I would say is that it [animal testing] is not our preferred option," Dunne said.

The bill said that the expert advisory committee would comprise up to six members, who between them must have expertise in pharmacology, toxicology, neurosciences, medicine and "any other areas" considered "relevant".

Green Party animal welfare spokeswoman Mojo Mathers said she was disappointed the proposed bill did not state that testing toxic compounds on animals should be avoided.

She said the heated backlash to the Star-Times' initial story had sent a strong message to the Government that causing pain and death to dogs was not justified for the approval of a product such as legal highs.

"It's great that humans are going to be better protected under this [legislation] but that can be done without harming animals," Mathers said.

The Star-Times sourced a copy of the 35-page proposed legislation on Friday.

Only New Zealand residents are eligible to secure a licence to import an approved psychoactive substance or manufacture an approved psychoactive substance.

Stiff penalties will await people who breach the proposed law, including prison terms of up to two years for people who import or manufacture a substance without a licence. Any companies found guilty of the same offence would face a fine of up to $500,000.

Those who breach their licence conditions to import or manufacture a substance face a three-month prison sentence or a fine not exceeding $500,000, or both. It will be illegal to sell party pills to people under 18. The proposed bill said the costs of processing applications, safety testing and enforcement would be borne by manufacturers.

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Dunne said the bill's contents were consistent with the Government's tough talking on legal highs.

"We didn't want to make this a bit of a mockery," Dunne said.

"The penalty provisions are quite stringent. Also the fact that all of the costs of running the testing regime fall on the manufacturers is pretty stringent as well . . . I think it is pretty close to full cost recovery."

- Sunday Star Times

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