Catriona MacLennan: Animal testing flawed, cruel

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Herald on Sunday columnist Damien Grant outraged pet-lovers last week when he came down firmly in favour of testing recreational drugs on animals. Opponents of the Psychoactive Substances Act have their say

A Paw Justice march up Queen St against party pill testing. Photo / Sarah Ivey
A Paw Justice march up Queen St against party pill testing. Photo / Sarah Ivey

Why should dogs die so humans can get high? Animal testing takes lives, and humans and animals suffer.

In his column last weekend, Damien Grant said he did not care how many cute beagles needed to die for him to be safe. He went on to say he did "not want to collect my son from the morgue because he overdosed".

No one wants to collect a child from the morgue. But relying on animal tests to prevent that awful eventuality provides a completely false sense of security.

In fact, animal trials can expose humans to unnecessary risk, as well as taking scarce research funds from tests that actually are effective.

Animal testing is outdated and risky. Rather than being "Luddites", as Grant describes them, those pushing to outlaw animal testing are at the forefront of research.

The latest research from Stanford University last month showed that medical studies using animals to test therapies for human brain disorders were often biased, initially claiming positive results and then failing in human trials.

Other research published in the United States showed that artificially inducing a model of a disease in an animal and then curing it did not provide an effective cure for a naturally occurring disease in a human.

The study was carried out after researchers wondered why 150 cures for the often-fatal sepsis disease developed and tested on animals all failed in humans.

Millions of animals around the world are accordingly enduring agony followed by death for tests that produce no medically useful results.

The same will be true if New Zealand uses animals to test party pills. It is both barbaric and unnecessary.

Grant, the politicians and the party pill pushers would have you believe it's a few "smelly" rodents. It isn't.

In New Zealand more than 327,000 animals were subjected to testing in 2011, the animals used ranged from rabbits to dogs and horses. In one high-profile case, hundreds of beagles had their knee joints severed to test anti-inflammatories.

The dogs were kept in cages with metal slat floors so they did not even have to be taken out to the toilet. They suffered agonising pain for more than 330 days before being euthanased.

We are living in the 21st century and there are now more effective, less cruel ways to test pills. These include:

• In vitro cell culture
• In silico computer simulation
• Use of human skin for irritancy tests
• Use of donated human blood for pyrogenicity studies
• Microdosing, which involves testing drugs on humans at doses well below those expected to produce whole-body results.

Supporters of testing on animals try to have it both ways by arguing that animals are inferior to humans and do not feel pain or fear.

However, at the same time, they argue that animal experiments are necessary because animals' physiques are very similar to those of humans.

In New Zealand, the number of animals used in testing is rising rather than falling, with the figure being 35.3 per cent higher in 2011 than in 2010.

As a result, this country is falling well behind internationally. Italy last month voted in favour of sweeping restrictions on the use of animals in research, testing and teaching. That will include a total ban on using animals to test alcohol, tobacco and other recreational drugs.

And the United Kingdom's Home Office has confirmed that a ban on using animals for testing of alcohol and tobacco will extend to all recreational drugs.

The European Union has recently outlawed animal testing for cosmetics.

New Zealand will place its international reputation at risk if it continues to cling to outdated and cruel testing practices.

And, even worse, we will be failing to keep our children safe.

Make no mistake: animals will die in terror and agony if the Government does not ban their use for the testing of party pills.

Sadly, New Zealand's children will be none the safer as a result.

- Herald on Sunday

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