Credit where credit’s due. Credit is due to the Greens—in particular, to Green MPs Kevin Hague, Mojo Mathers and Metiria Turei—for their input into the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which has its third and final reading on Thursday.
I endorse the Green Party minority view on animal testing. Here it is.
The introduction of a requirement that psychoactive substances are proven to be relatively safe before being sold in New Zealand inevitably creates the requirement for a whole new area of product safety testing. It is unsurprising that this has given rise to very significant concern from New Zealanders who oppose the cruel treatment of animals and who believe that testing of these products on animals in order to establish safety is unnecessary and, indeed, inferior to alternative methods. This view has widespread public support, as public opinion polls on the subject have demonstrated, and many individuals and organisations received encouragement from the Minister and others to express their concerns in submissions to the select committee.
However, on 8 May 2013 the Health Committee Chair ruled that all submissions received on the subject of animal testing were outside the scope of the bill, and these submissions were returned to those who made them without being considered. By a majority the committee decided to reject a Green Party motion to hear evidence from these submitters even if their submissions were out of scope. It is the Green Party’s very strong view that both of these decisions were wrong.
The Clerk of the House had provided advice that amendments to the bill that sought to outlaw product testing on animals were out of scope. However, nearly all of the submissions that were rejected raised issues that could have been addressed by an amendment to the bill to prohibit the use of information derived from animal testing in an application for a licence. The Clerk has advised that such an amendment would clearly be in scope, and the Green Party believes that it was therefore manifestly wrong to refuse to hear public submissions on the matter.
Belatedly the committee did receive advice from the chair of the Interim Psychoactive Substances Expert Advisory Committee, which had been asked by the Minister to comment on the animal testing issues, but which also did not have access to the submissions that had been rejected by the Health Committee chair. That advice was that the interim committee does not believe substances can be established to be low risk without animal testing. This effectively introduces a requirement that there be animal testing data for licence applications, and this new requirement has been introduced entirely without any views from the general public, animal welfare organisations or experts (except those who happen to be on the interim committee).
The Green Party believes this to be profoundly unsatisfactory. In our view, with the initial decision to reject these submissions having been shown to be in error, the correct course of action would have been to reopen submissions on this specific matter.
In the absence of a select committee hearing these submissions, the Green Party invited those individuals and organisations who wished to have their voice heard to do so in a separate hearing. We found as follows:
Non-animal tests are available and more accurate
Evidence was heard that many countries do not use animal testing for pre-clinical trials for safety because the results from non-animal testing are more reliable. The New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS) said that in 2008 the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration started a process to replace all toxicology testing on animals with non-animal techniques to produce results that are more relevant to humans.
Submitters talked about other countries that use these non-animal testing programmes as a preference to animal testing. Evidence was presented that the data from animal testing was actually less reliable in safety testing than non-animal testing. It was argued that if the bill allows for the lower quality data from animal testing to be acceptable evidence of safety then human health would be put at risk.
NZAVS gave evidence about the Ministry of Health’s proposed testing regime and outlined in detail the non-animal testing options that are available to provide an adequate, if not superior, guarantee of safety.
A safety testing regime would include four stages:
•manufacturing and controls information
•preclinical toxicology studies
•human clinical studies
•post registration surveillance
It is this pre-clinical testing where animal testing would be used.
The initially proposed pre-clinical testing involves four proposed parts, each of which has well regarded non-animal testing options.
Type of testing Non-animal option Acute toxicity
•Neutral Red Uptake Assay
•In vitro micronucleus assay as required by Health Canada
•3D models with cultured human cells
Repeat dose toxicity
•Various in vitro human cell line studies e.g. liver, lungs, bone marrow (tests for effects on the immune system)
•Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship (QSAR) computer modelling
•Cell line tests
•In vitro absorption tests e.g. Caco-2 cells
•In vitro assays on hepatocytes (liver cells)
•Physiologically Based Toxicokinetic (PBTK) modelling
•In vitro cell gene mutation test
•In vitro chromosomal aberration test
•In vitro cell micronucleus test
New Zealand’s international reputation is at risk
It was argued by submitters that New Zealand is known as an innovative country with a reputation for good animal welfare. Submitters said that developing legislation which allows for unnecessary animal testing will damage this reputation, especially given that there is an international trend towards avoiding animal testing wherever possible. SAFE submitted that this is an opportunity to avoid risking our reputation and to enhance our reputation as an innovative and ethical country.
Submitters also gave evidence that other countries are looking to New Zealand’s development of regulation of psychoactive substances as a potential model for their own regulation. Some of these countries also do not allow animal testing of recreational drugs. If they choose to follow the model developed in this bill as it stands they will adapt it to fit their bans on animal testing of recreational drugs.
NZAVS gave evidence gained from an Official Information Act request of correspondence between the chair of the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and her equivalent in the United Kingdom that showed the UK ban on animal testing would also apply to psychoactive substances.
Animal testing is ethically and morally questionable
One submission from an animal rescue organisation, Helping You Help Animals (HUHA), talked about the pain and discomfort that these sorts of tests inflict on animals. Their organisation was involved with rescuing dogs from an animal testing facility and they witnessed serious damage and harm to those animals.
They spoke about their experiences of working with some people who carry out animal testing who had been overexposed to animal suffering and had lost their empathy when it came to the animals under their care.
Submitters told the hearings that unless it was ruled out in the bill, then animal testing would most likely be carried out in other countries, some of which have no animal welfare regulations and so the conditions can be assumed to be worse.
A number of countries already ban non-medical animal testing from an ethical standpoint. Toxicity testing is particularly painful experimentation. Submitters argued that the consideration of this bill is the chance for New Zealand to draw an ethical line on this issue.
Cost implications of non-animal testing
The cost of alternatives to animal testing is significantly higher. Because the cost of safety testing for a product will be carried by the manufacturers, not the Government, submitters argued that this higher cost of non-animal testing creates an incentive for animal testing to be used.
In fact, the point was made that if the bill does not rule out the use of data from animal testing then the cost difference will ensure that manufacturers use the cheapest method to provide evidence, and that will be animal testing regardless of the quality of that evidence.
Submitters spoke about the dominance of animal testing in the industry in New Zealand—it is the norm, rather than a last resort. Evidence was received to show that this is also the case in some countries such as China where a large amount of contract animal testing is undertaken.
There was evidence presented by submitters that, if data from animal testing is ruled out, businesses will adapt their practices and the cost of non-animal testing will drop as demand for these tests increases and capacity to undertake these tests develops.
The Green Party recommends that an amendment should be made to the Psychoactive Substances Bill to exclude the use of new information gained through animal testing as evidence in determining the safety of an application.
(Disclaimer. I’m not a big fan of the Greens as a general rule. Their economic and environmental polices are whack. A Green government would be ruinous for New Zealand. But, at times like this, I’m very glad that the Greens have a Parliamentary presence.)