Animal drug-testing essential, says Dunne

PETER DUNNE: Associate Health Minister
PETER DUNNE: Associate Health Minister

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne wanted to keep animal testing for psychoactive substances, but knew it would not get support in Parliament, new documents reveal.

In a May 2 letter to Prime Minister John Key, Dunne said the most "vexing issue" around banning the substances was animal testing.

The Government announced on April 27 that it would pull all psychoactive substances from sale after a significant public backlash against the products.

Dunne said advice over animal testing had been "inconsistent", but testing on rabbits, hares and rodents would provide enough information to assess a product's safety. "If it is deemed, as I think it should be, that low risk of harm should cover systemic toxicity [toxicity after oral or inhalation exposure], or teratogenesis [an agent that causes malformation of an embryo], then the advice to me is animal testing is essential."

Referring to a Cabinet briefing document, Dunne said "Option C" was the "only viable option". This called for no animal testing in New Zealand, but to keep testing of rodents and rabbits overseas.

"Any further dilution of the testing requirements will not only render the testing regime inadequate, but I believe will also provide momentum to a much wider campaign of removing animal testing from a range of other areas, such as cosmetics, veterinary, agricultural, food and medical products," he said.

He was not prepared to push the matter in the House, however, advising Key he would not be able to gain majority support.

It was likely the bill would have been defeated and any amendment to the bill put forward from the floor of the House to ban animal testing outright would have found support.

Dunne said yesterday there was no point introducing legislation to the House if it was clear it would fail. "It was an assessment that I made preceding that weekend [of the vote], that we didn't have the numbers to proceed with it and therefore we shouldn't attempt it."

The legislation was passed under urgency on May 7. It followed an about-turn by the Government, after Dunne wrote to MPs in mid-April insisting that existing legislation was working and needed to be given time.

Dunne revealed his change of heart on April 27, a few hours before Labour announced its own policy to ban psychoactive substances. Fairfax NZ