Animals in Research

In New Zealand, as in many countries, laboratory animals (mainly rodents) and farm animals (mainly cattle and sheep) are used in research, testing and teaching – commonly referred to as RTT.

However, as a reflection of our agricultural focus, we use a relatively higher proportion of farm animals for this purpose than most countries. Although mice feature strongly in the statistics, sheep and cattle have also been included in the four most commonly used animals since 1989, and for the last two years, cattle have been the most numerous.

Animal use in RTT is strictly controlled under the Animal Welfare Act 1999 and organisations using animals must follow an approved code of ethical conduct. This sets out the policies and procedures that need to be adopted and followed by the organisation and its animal ethics committee. An example of an approved code can be found here (offsite link to www.massey.ac.nz) (PDF, 79 KB).

Every project must be approved and monitored by an animal ethics committee. These committees must have three external members:

  • a nominee of an approved animal welfare organisation,
  • a nominee of the New Zealand Veterinary Association and,
  • a lay person to represent the public interest (and nominated by a local government body).

Code holders and their animal ethics committees are independently reviewed (by MPI accredited reviewers) at least once every five years.

All code holders have to submit annual animal use statistics on the number of animals used in research, testing or teaching, and its impact on them, from little or none to severe.

It is important to remember that every project that uses animals for approved purposes must demonstrate that the benefits – for example to the maintenance of human health or the production and productivity of animals – are not outweighed by the likely harm to animals. The treatment and cure for many diseases rely on animal research and research is not just about developing new drugs for humans – many of the drugs tested on animals are being developed for animals.

Information for students

If you want to use animals for a school or research project, you need to check with your teacher or supervisor whether animal ethics committee approval is required.

The New Zealand Association of Science Educators runs the animal ethics committee whose role is to consider and approve projects involving the manipulation of live animals for all teachers and school students (including home-schooled students). See http://www.nzase.org.nz (offsite link to www.nzase.org.nz)

Tertiary students (university or polytechnic) should contact their university for information on animal ethics approval.

Using animals at school or university gives you a responsibility to care for the animals. See the ANZCCART ethical guidelines for students in laboratory classes involving the use of animals (offsite link to www.royalsociety.org.nz).

For more information see:

How many animals are used in RTT?

The figures vary from year to year depending on what project has been approved and how long the project goes for. Yearly statistics are published in the NAEAC Annual Report.

Why Use Animals?

Research contributes to new insight into all areas of life, including human and animal health, animal welfare, animal production, pest management and conservation. Research into animal behaviour, physiology and pathology provides new insight into levels of pain and distress experienced by animals.

New Zealand scientists have refined slaughter methods and technology following animal studies on how pain can be eliminated. In New Zealand, animals are stunned before all commercial slaughter.

For more information see: Understanding Animal Research (offsite link to www.understandinganimalresearch.org.uk)

Reducing the numbers of animals used

New Zealand promotes the use of the Three Rs programme and scientific advances also have an important bearing on the use of animals in research. Recent developments have enabled researchers, in certain situations, to reduce the number of animals used and to refine methods to minimise or eliminate pain and distress.

The replacement of animals with other methods – such as tissue culture or computer simulation – has selective application. This is being pursued on both animal welfare and cost efficiency grounds.

The government and NAEAC are committed to promoting the “Three Rs” to scientists involved in research testing and teaching. The Three Rs are replacement, reduction and refinement:

  • Replacement
    Replacing animals with non-animal alternatives. Computer models can sometimes be used for teaching instead of live animals.
  • Reduction
    Using as few animals as necessary.
  • Refinement
    Pain or suffering must be reduced as much as possible, for example, by using painkillers. Animal ethics committees must take the Three Rs into account when they are considering proposals for testing. This means that animals should only be used when there are no alternatives, and that any suffering to animals must be weighed up against the benefit to humans or other animals, and must be minimised.

Three Rs Award

To help promote the Three Rs, NAEAC co-ordinates the annual "Three Rs Award", recognising an individual's or institution's achievements in implementing the principles of "replacement, reduction and refinement" – the cornerstone of the ethical use of animals in research, testing and teaching

Details about the Award, past winners and application process are available from:

NAEAC Secretary
P O Box 2526
Wellington 6140
Email: naeac@mpi.govt.nz

New Zealand Three Rs

MPI and NAEAC are also partners in the New Zealand (offsite link to www.massey.ac.nz). Key Priorities of the NZ3Rs Programme are:

  1. To promote understanding and application of the Three Rs in New Zealand
  2. To promote the development of the Three Rs in New Zealand
  3. To profile New Zealand's Three Rs contributions
  4. To network and liaise with other Three Rs centres internationally

Regular updates on the Programme are published in Welfare Pulse.

Page last updated: 9 September 2014