Animal research

New commitment for more transparency on animal research

Scientists have pledged to be more open about how they use animals in research and education, in a just-announced deal, the first of its kind outside of Europe. Photo / 123RF

Scientists have pledged to be more open about how they use animals in research and education, in a just-announced deal, the first of its kind outside of Europe.

The new opening deal on animal research and education in New Zealand, officially announced at a conference in Queenstown this afternoon, was intended to ensure the public was well informed about the often controversial work.

This included the role animal research played in scientific discovery, how it was regulated, what researchers did to promote animal welfare, and the ethical considerations involved.

The pledge committed its signatories – which include all of New Zealand’s major universities – to improving communication with tangata whenua and reporting progress each year.

A leading anti-vivisection group called the move an “excellent first step” – but wanted the signatories to honor their pledge of greater transparency.

Animals have long been a part of New Zealand research, testing and education.

2019 alone, more than 315,000 – including mice, rats, fish, guinea pigs, sheep and cattle – have been manipulated for scientific purposes.

Although the research had little or no impact on nearly three-quarters of these animals, 136,679 other animals were bred but killed without being used – something the researchers tried to mitigate through breeding. targeted and on demand.

All research activities involving animals had to comply with animal welfare law, and those that required handling could not be carried out without the approval of an animal ethics committee.

“Public confidence in animal research depends on the scientific community participating in an ongoing conversation about why and how animals are used,” said Professor Pat Cragg of the University of Otago, who chairs the Australian and New Zealand Council for Animal Care in Research and Education (ANZCCART).

“By signing this opening agreement, the signatory organizations have committed to having this conversation with the public.”

Among the 21 institutes that had signed up were AgResearch, Niwa, Auckland Zoo, Malaghan Institute, Department of Conservation, Royal Society Te Apārangi, TUE, and Universities of Auckland, Massey, Victoria , Waikato, Canterbury and Otago – the latter of which has just opened a new $ 50 million animal research facility.

Prominent University of Auckland microbiologist, associate professor Siouxsie Wiles, whose own research sometimes uses animals, said she hoped the deal would encourage researchers and organizations to be more open on the matter. .

University of Auckland associate professor of microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles hopes the agreement will encourage researchers and organizations to be more open about animal research.  Photo / Nathalie Slade
University of Auckland associate professor of microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles hopes the agreement will encourage researchers and organizations to be more open about animal research. Photo / Nathalie Slade

“In doing so, the public will be better informed not only of the incredible research being conducted in New Zealand for the benefit of humans and animals, but also of the dedication and care of the many researchers and technical staff involved.”

Associate Professor Malcolm Tingle, head of the Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Auckland, said organizations were reluctant to open up to the public about the use of animals.

“This was in part motivated by fear of anti-vivisection activities, negative publicity, and in some cases the potential for distress and / or harm to employees and students using animals in such activities.” , Tingle said.

“While some details are made public, such as statistics on animal use, these are often presented as innocently as possible.

“As such, the use of animals for RTT in New Zealand has relied on a model of high trust that operates largely behind closed doors.”

Tingle said the deal should be seen as “a very welcome move” to clarify what has actually been done with the animals.

Dr Mike King, animal ethicist and senior lecturer at Otago’s Bioethics, said the deal was “an extremely valuable achievement.”

King said animal research and education is an “ethically complex” issue, and that informed and reasonable disagreement on this is an opportunity to make ethical progress.

“This research is always undertaken with the aim of benefiting humans, animals and the environment,” he said.

“Animals are at the heart of this problem and should be the main beneficiaries of this progress. “

Tara Jackson of the New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society, who attended the ANZCCART conference for the first time this year, welcomed this step but is still concerned that there would not be enough transparency.

“There is a big difference between a PR exercise to rally the public and really allow the public to have full access to what is going on,” she said.

“Morally, and often legally, the public has every right to be able to examine what is happening to animals. “