Public muzzled on party pills tests

Government officials discussed rushing through legislation allowing for the testing of party pills on dogs and other animals without any public consultation.

The plan is included in documents obtained by the Sunday Star-Times which highlight Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne's U-turn following the paper's party pill testing revelations last weekend.

The proposed testing regime included discussion over employing the controversial LD50 testing method, where doses of a drug increase until half the test group dies.

Dunne, who has headed the Government's crackdown on party pills, initially said animal testing was "unavoidable to prove that products are safe for human beings" and "it is an unpleasant but necessary reality".

But after the story was published, Dunne ruled out the use of LD50 and said no decision to use other testing methods involving animals would be made without a thorough consultation period.

The Government was committed to following the "Three R" protocol which promoted replacement of animals in testing, reduction in numbers used and refining techniques to minimise suffering.

Dunne said he was commissioning research into a viable non-animal testing regime.

But a discussion document the ministry sent to Health Minister Tony Ryall and Dunne - featuring a sub-heading "Draft for comment - not Government policy" - says: "Consultation will be narrowly targeted to industry representatives and scientific experts, and will not be open to the general public.

"We have previously discussed the issues in general terms with the consultation group, so we do not anticipate any increased media attention as a result of the discussion document."

Emails by Ministry of Health officials working on the project, obtained under the Official Information Act, also suggest public consultation was not planned.

In a May 12 email, the ministry's senior policy analyst, Mark Heffernan, wrote to colleagues: "As we have not promised the minister or the public a formal consultation, I do not think there is an expectation that we will consult on the criteria other than through the select committee process.

"The consultation we had planned therefore was mostly for our own benefit to achieve the two outcomes of: An academic peer review; a ‘reality check' from the industry to see if what we are proposing is realistic. These outcomes may be easier achieved through means other than a formal consultation."

The proposed party pill testing regime would be applied to any brand of party pill or other synthetic high before it was allowed to be sold legally in New Zealand.

The draft discussion document sent to Ryall and Dunne said animals would ingest the intended "legal highs" in the same way future human consumers would - in pill form.

Meanwhile, Green Party animal welfare spokeswoman Mojo Mathers - who initially alerted the Star-Times to the dog-testing proposal - last night welcomed Dunne's stance that LD50 testing would not be undertaken but was concerned other animal tests were still likely.

"Many of the other proposed tests would still involve a high level of suffering," Mathers said.

"There have been significant advances in the development of other testing techniques that do not use animals. We need to be replacing as many of the traditional animal tests with these as we can.

"I will be continuing to monitor the progress of this regime and the review committee's work. Mathers said those backing animal testing were "stuck in the old ways of doing things".

"I simply do not believe that their insistence that only animal testing will do is the reality."

Sunday Star Times