New Zealand will fly in the face of international animal welfare conventions if it allows legal highs to be tested on animals.
Documents released by the Ministry for Primary Industries and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne have shed more light on the pending testing regime party pill manufacturers will face to prove their products are safe for human consumption.
In December, the Sunday Star-Times revealed that consideration was being given to the lethal dose 50 per cent (LD50) testing method - a programme in which half of each trial group of dogs would die after being force-fed party pills.
Animal welfare advocates objected, calling instead for alternative testing and not using animals whenever possible.
Dunne ruled out the lethal testing method, but other tests on dogs and rats are still being considered.
Head of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee Virginia Williams sought advice from overseas jurisdictions on whether they allowed testing of recreational drugs - including alcohol and tobacco - on animals.
Judy MacArthur Clark, head of the animals in science regulation unit at UK's Home Office, replied that any proposal to test for the safety of recreational drugs would be "rejected".
Williams also approached Canadian authorities. The Canadian Council on Animal Care Three Rs co-ordinator, Nicole Fenwick, said while research was being done in Canada on some legal drugs, including the medicinal use of marijuana, none of the testing was known to involve animals.
But she was unable to find "any information suggesting" there was a ban on using animals in recreational drug or alcohol research testing in Canada.
As so-called legal highs are a relatively new product, many countries are yet to have binding rules on the eligibility of testing on animals.
But France recently banned the use of animal testing in the cosmetic industry and policymakers are under pressure to extend that to the legal high, alcohol and tobacco industry.
The European Union has also introduced a ban on the sale of any cosmetic or personal care product which was tested on animals.
New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society spokesman Stephen Manson urged policy makers to take heed of the responses from the UK and Canada.
He said it was concerning that the Government hadn't ruled out animal testing, despite both international responses and a recent Horizon Research survey, which revealed the majority of respondents were opposed to animal testing.
"It is appalling that our Government is going against the wishes of such a large majority of New Zealand voters by not addressing this issue in the same way the UK has."
Green Party animal welfare spokeswoman Mojo Mathers is leading political opposition to animal testing.
"Canada and the UK have correctly ruled testing recreational drugs on animals to be unethical and unnecessary. We need to step up and rule out data from animal testing in any safety assessment of party pills."
The Psychoactive Substances Bill passed its first reading in Parliament in April.
The legislation - which is set to become law by July - will force manufacturers of so-called legal highs to prove that their products are safe before they can be sold. They will be responsible for paying for the clinical testing procedures.
A Ministry of Health report says an interim psychoactive substances expert advisory committee would be formed as a "matter of priority, as regulations will need to be in place at the same time as [or very shortly after] the bill becomes law".
The board would feature five people, including experts in toxicology, neurology, law, ethics and clinical trials. The ministry document added: "There is likely to be continued public and media interest in the possible role of animal testing in ensuring that psychoactive substances are safe for human use."
It said the ministry would "continue to work with other interested parties to ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between public safety and animal welfare."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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