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Once a year, the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC) releases a bland annual report. The report is designed to reassure the public that animal researchers are benign and harmless animal lovers who can be trusted to regulate themselves without any independent public scrutiny.
To obtain details of what is really happening in vivisection laboratories around New Zealand, it is necessary to trawl through scientific journals and spend months arguing with officials in order to obtain documents through the Official Information Act.
The following information is a summary of some of the animal research underway in the main centres around the country. Please note that it is compiled from the 2003 animal usage statistics which are the most recent statistics released by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Taxpayer funded vivisection at AgResearch
AgResearch is the single biggest user of animals in experiments in New Zealand. According to figures obtained under the Official Information Act, the Crown Research Organisation used 55928 animals in experiments in 2003. Most were mice, cattle and sheep, but the total also included 26 dogs, 81 rabbits, and 456 guinea pigs. 104 cattle and 847 mice were listed as 'transgenic'.
The most well known AgResearch experiments have been the production of genetically modified cattle. Gene transfer experiments involve a high degree of severe suffering to the cloned animals and the surrogate mothers. Most transgenic embryonic transfers are unsuccessful, and many result in spontaneous abortion of fully conscious foetuses, infections in the mothers, and stress to the embryo donors. Foetuses that survive to term are often larger than calves born through natural means, requiring a traumatic caesarian operation on the mother. Allowing the suffering of sentient animals for simple economic gain in this way can only be described as ethically repugnant.
In recent years AgResearch have conducted internal parasite research in sheep. This involves monitoring the activity of parasites inside the sheep by surgical manipulations. In these experiments sheep are subjected to "cut and paste" operations where sections of their intestines are cut out and seperated from the rest of the gut so that researchers can conduct experiments inside the intestines. Invasive operations like this cause severe suffering to the animals.
Animal Experiments in Auckland
According to figures obtained by NAVC under the Official Information Act, Auckland University used 41091 animals in experiments in 2003, the largest number of any University in the country. Most of the animals were mice (27422), rats, (7765), and fish (4239). 4592 of the mice were classified as 'transgenic'. Other species included guinea pigs, rabbits, sheep, pigs and various species of birds.
862 mice and 222 rats were subjected to 'severe suffering' during the research. According to MAF guidelines this can include recovery from major surgery without analgesics.
It has proven extremely difficult to obtain details of specific experiments. For example, when NAVC requested the titles of research projects involving rabbit experiments by Auckland University vivisector (and NAEAC member) Simon Malpas, it took nearly two years of investigation by the Ombudsmens Office before the University agreed to release the information, which was by then no longer current.
Most experiments at Auckland University were classified as "Medical Research" even though many experts say using animals in medical research is wasteful and unreliable. Using animals as models for human disease is inherently unreliable because of the differences between humans and other species. For example, an artificially induced cancer tumour in a mouse is not an accurate model for cancer occurring in a sick human.
If we want to advance the cause of human medicine we should stop wasting money on torturing animals in labs and focus on safe ethical clinical studies of human disease.
Other organisations in Auckland using animals in experiments using animals in experiments include Genesis Research & Development Corporation Ltd, which has refused to release any information about its experiments. Several agricultural research companies in the Auckland area use small numbers of farm animals in experiments.
Vivisection at Massey University
Massey University is one of the main vivisection centres in the country and some staff members hold influential positions in the animal welfare regulatory bodies. Massey Professor David Mellor is chairman of the Governments National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, and Senior Lecturer Kathleen Parton, sits on the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee, responsible for overseeing all animal research in New Zealand.
Massey University used 32140 animals in experiments during 2003. This is a big increase on previous years (in 2002 the total was 23608, in 2001 it was 18714).
Massey is the only University that reported using both cats and dogs in experiments. Other species used included rabbits, guinea pigs horses, sheep, cattle, mice and rats. Most of the cats were used in non lethal teaching and veterinary research, but three were killed. 124 dogs were killed during the research, which was mostly for veterinary purposes. 14 dogs were used in commercial research. No other details are available, but NAVC does have some information obtained under the Official Information Act in 2002, concerning an experiment in which 7 dogs were subjected to "severe suffering" in a commercial experiment designed to test a new type of hip replacement product.
Massey University advertises its Animal Health Services Centre (AHSC) as New Zealands premier contract animal research centre. This means the AHSC will conduct animal tests for 'anybody who has the money'. The centre was established in 1986 and in the last five years an increasing amount of contract research has also been undertaken for overseas organisations. The AHSC provides the commercial farming and animal exploitation industries with access to the expertise and extensive animal research resources at Massey. The main areas of research offered by the centre relate to toxicity, 'safety' and residue determinations.
The Centre has a staff of 24, and is headed by Allen Goldenthal, a Canadian who describes himself as an 'in vivo' specialist. Goldenthal was involved in toxicity testing on animals at various overseas pharmaceutical companies before he became director of the AHSC.
The AHSC website boasts that they have access to the university's small animal (rabbits, rodents etc) breeding unit, a small dog colony, and a medium size cat colony. The AHSC advertises itself as offering "competitive pricing for academic research projects" and able to assist with "all your animal manipulation requirements".
Massey Professor David Mellor is Chair of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) and is the governments most senior advisor on animal welfare issues. Mr Mellor is also a vivisector with a particular interest in pain and stress experiments on animals.
Last year we requested details of all applications for animal experiments made by Professor Mellor since 2001. The University refused our request claiming it was acting to protect Professor Mellors privacy.
The experiments carried out by Mellor and his colleagues aim to measure the suffering and stress that sheep and cattle go through as a part of normal farming operations. If no addition suffering was caused by these experiments, it could be argued that they would be advancing the cause of animal welfare by doing this research. Unfortunately for the animals involved, these experiments often involve more pain and suffering for animals than normal farm conditions.
In March 2002, an experiment examined the response of calves to different methods of castration (ring, band, surgical, or clamp) with or without local anaesthetic. All methods of castration caused significant pain and distress. Mr Mellor and his co researchers discovered that local anaesthetic reduced the pain and distress caused by castration. One wonders why several calves had to go through this painful procedure to record what seems to be a very obvious result.
Mellor and his team have also investigated the response of lamb to castration and tail docking, and carried out experiments where several different methods of dehorning cattle were compared.
Lincoln University and vivisection in Canterbury
Lincoln is the only university in the country to refuse to release even basic statistics about its animal research, claiming a risk their staff will be harassed. All other New Zealand Universities and many other animal research organisations have released figures showing the numbers and species of animals used in experiments last year.
Lincoln University obviously has something to hide if it is afraid to release even basic statistics. The information we requested does not contain any personal details that could identify staff. Every other University in the country releases this basic information, so what is Lincoln hiding?
Other Canterbury institutions using animals in experiments include Landcare Research, Canterbury University and the Christchurch School of Medicine.
Landcare Research conducts "pest control" research on animals including small numbers of cats and dogs. In 2003 painful experiments resulting in "severe" and "very severe" suffering were conducted on rabbits, rats, possums, mice, ferrets and fish.
Canterbury University used 6953 animals in 2003. Most were fish used in non invasive wildlife studies, but they also included 1500 tadpoles and numerous fish killed for teaching purposes. The Psychology Department killed 92 quail and over 1000 rats in "biological research".
The Christchurch School of Medicine uses rabbits, sheep, mice and rats in experiments. Very little detail is available about these experiments. 22 rabbits were used in a commercial research project. NAVC believes the sheep are being used in heart surgery experiments.
Vivisection at Otago University
Otago University in Dunedin is one of the major vivisection centres in the country, and hosts a breeding centre which is vital to the vivisection industry nationally. In 2003, Otago University used 13379 animals in research and teaching. Animals used included 2209 mice, 2561 rats, 117 guinea pigs, 34 rabbits, 20 pigs, 218 sheep and 41 pigeons, as well as many thousands of fish and crustaceans. 57 mice were transgenic. The experiments involving the most suffering were conducted on rats, with 883 used in "moderate suffering " experiments.
The Otago University Animal Breeding Centre in Mosgiel is one of New Zealand's largest lab animal breeding centres. Every year they breed rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice for supply to vivisection labs around the country.
Detailed information on experiments at Otago University is difficult to obtain, but NAVC has obtained some information concerning a group of researchers headed by Professors Paul Smith and Cynthia Darlington who have carried out brain experiments on guineapigs at Otago for more than a decade.
The vestibular research group has carried out many experiments involved the study of Unilateral Labyrinthectomy (a surgical procedure in which the inner ear organs on one side of an animal's head are destroyed).
In one experiment, designed to test the effects of a protein called Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) on the brains of guineapigs, 30 animals had a metal cannula inserted into the brain. The cannula was attached to the skull using screws and dental cement. A week later, on the day of the experiment, a mini pump and catheter were implanted under the skin of the shoulder blades, and a Unilateral Labyrinthectomy was carried out. This surgery involves opening up one side of the guineapig's head and using a dental drill to destroy the bones in the inner ear (responsible for balance). After surgery the animals were placed in separate boxes with perspex windows at the front. Video cameras were used to record the head and eye movements for up to 50 hours after surgery. BDNF was given in various doses to the guineapigs and the effects measured.
In an experiment published last year, the researchers induced hypothermia in guineapigs while carrying out the Unilateral Labyrinthectomy. They found that the animals exposed to hypothermia during the operation took a significantly longer time to recover from the surgery.
Despite these published reports, Otago University has refused to release information held by the Otago University Animal Ethics Committee describing why these experiments were approved.
Some of the other prolific animal experimenters at Otago include Chris Bolter, who studies the nervous system in guinea pigs, and Associate Professor David Bilkey who has published numerous studies involving brain damage in rats. For example, one experiment involved inflicting brain lesions on rats and implanting electrodes into the brain and recording brainwaves in order to find out what effect the injuries had on the rats memory.
National Anti Vivisection Campaign