Pain and death for naught

The University of Otago is proposing to build a five-storey facility on campus by February 2018. Deputy vice-chancellor for research and enterprise Prof Richard Blaikie hopes the investment will attract people to study at Otago.

However, he is likely to be disappointed.

Testing on animals is old-fashioned and produces dubious results, and most students are well aware of that.

Why doesn't the university lead the way, both for New Zealand and internationally, by banning the use of animals in testing and teaching? That would be a far greater drawcard for students.

The latest statistics on animal use in research, testing and teaching in New Zealand were released in February 2016. They show that, in 2014, 310,287 animals were used - a massive 38.5% increase on 2013. Animals subjected to research, testing or teaching included dogs, cats, chickens, mice, sheep, fish, cattle, rabbits, goats, pigs, horses, pigeons and guinea pigs.

Almost 97% of the rabbits and rodents were either dead or euthanased after being used. A total of 10,400 animals suffered "high impacts'' or "very high impacts'', meaning they were subjected to severe stress or pain. The "very high impact'' category covers manipulations causing high stress or pain, and having a long duration.

It is concerning to note universities in 2014 used 67,185 more animals than in 2013.

Our tertiary institutions should be at the forefront of accurate, scientific knowledge, not clinging to outdated procedures.

Stanford University research from 2013 revealed medical research using animals to test therapies for human brain disorders was often biased: it produced positive results at the outset, but then failed in human tests.

Further American research found that artificially inducing diseases in animals, then curing them, did not translate to effective cures for diseases that occurred naturally in humans. That study was carried out after scientists queried why 150 cures for sepsis that had been developed and tested on animals all failed in humans.

Testing on animals is causing pain and death for millions of animals around the world, but failing to produce scientifically useful results.

We are in the second decade of the 21st century, and there are ample alternatives to animal testing.

These include:

•Microdosing, which involves testing drugs on humans at doses well below those expected to produce whole-body results.

•In vitro cell culture.

•Use of donated human blood for pyrogenicity studies.

•In silico computer simulation.

•Use of human skin for irritancy tests.

There was widespread public opposition in 2013 when it was proposed that party pills would be tested on dogs. Similarly, the Government's move last year to ban cosmetic testing on animals was widely applauded.

The 28 members of the European Union, Norway, India and Israel have all banned cosmetic testing on animals. In 2013, Italy's Parliament voted to severely limit the use of animals in research, testing and teaching.

Last year, more than 1.2 million signatures were submitted to the European Commission in support of a ban on animal testing.

This is the way of the future: it is inevitable that experiments on animals will eventually be prohibited.

The University of Otago should lead the way in helping to achieve this, thereby being a progressive, forward-looking university of which New Zealanders can be

Catriona MacLennan, from Auckland, is a barrister and the convener of Animal Agenda Aotearoa.

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