Dogs trigger robust debate

Last updated 07:28 03/12/2012

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OPINION: The story that developed yesterday about testing party pills on animals provided an interesting glimpse into the New Zealand psyche.

First, the Sunday Star-Times reported yesterday that dogs would be forced to take lethal doses of party pills under a testing method being considered by the Government to determine whether the drugs are safe for humans. The SPCA, animal rights groups and the Greens called that "barbaric", and urged New Zealanders to protest against the proposal. The key aspect was a "lethal dose 50 per cent (LD50) test", in which doses of the drug increase until half the test group dies.

There are several issues here, and not just the unsurprising abhorrence at the prospect of any animal being fed a drug until it dies.

Until now, it has been up to the Government to prove party pills are unsafe, but it wants to put that burden of proof back on the manufacturer. To do that, a manufacturer would have to put the drug through "pre-clinical animal studies", and be able to show it was safe for animals before it could be given to humans. That would involve sacrificing animals.

While New Zealanders may be able to stomach the prospect of animal testing in order to prove the safety to humans of a drug that has some medical benefits, party pills couldn't be said to fall into the same category. Green MP Mojo Mathers summed it up, saying, "Dogs and other animals shouldn't be made to suffer just so that we can get legal highs on store shelves."

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was quoted as saying that it was unavoidable that party pills would be tested on animals, including dogs, and said human safety was paramount. But later in the day, he ruled out LD50 testing, saying there had been no decisions made about any testing regime.

The fact would seem to remain that the LD50 test, and considerable detail about animal testing, is well covered in a document produced by his ministry, and so that definitely puts it on the table.

There will be a significant group of New Zealanders who object to any animal being subject to any form of drug testing. Others may be able to live with the prospect of animals being used in tests for medical drugs.

What's put this story on the front page is the reference to dogs - as opposed to the rather less popular rats or mice - being used.

And whether or not party pills will - or should - be tested on animals, what form that testing might take, and whether those test animals will include dogs, is now the issue very much in the public eye, and the consultation process should prove to be a robust one.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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