ANZCCART FAQs for School-aged Children
We hope some of this information might be helpful for you and may be even answer some of the questions you had in mind.
If not, or if there are other questions you would like to get answers to, please feel free to contact us and we will do whatever we can to help you.
The information provided above was prepared in response to the listed questions, which were the twelve most commonly asked questions during the past two years. If this all makes it sound like the use of animals in testing, research and teaching is very closely controlled, there is a good reason for that - it is! Animal cruelty is a very serious crime and it does not matter whether you are in the bush, in your backyard or in a laboratory, it is unacceptable and against the law.
What laws govern the use of animals for scientific research in Australia?
In Australia, all use of animals for scientific purposes (i.e. research, teaching, testing, etc) must be done according to the rules set out in The Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (8th Edition, 2013) (referred to as The Code). You can download a copy of The Code.
In addition, every State and Territory of Australia has laws that protect animals and these apply too. The Code is formally recognised in the animal welfare laws in every State and Territory of Australia - so essentially these rules ARE the law that apply to the use of animals in scientific research. The Code stipulates that every single animal that is used for research or teaching in Australia in Australia must be approved by an Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) and every AEC must have the following types of people on it:
- A veterinarian
- An experienced scientist (or teacher)
- someone who has a strong commitment to animal welfare and who is independent of the institution conducting the research
- someone who is independent of the institution and who has never been involved with the scientific use of animals (a lay person)
Additional members are also commonly appointed who can help ensure that the AEC works effectively, so the Code makes the following recommendations:
- Institutions should appoint to the AEC a person responsible for the routine care of animals within the institution.
- Institutions may appoint additional members with skills and background of value to the AEC.
When an AEC decides whether or not to approve an application to use animals in research or teaching, they do not vote. Every member of the AEC must agree that the work should be approved before it can go ahead.
An animal can only be used if there is no alternative to using that animal and its use is fully justified and every reasonable means possible is taken to look after the welfare of the animal so it does not suffer pain or distress. There are harsh penalties for breaking laws relating to the conduct of experiments involving animals.
These vary from State to State but generally maximum penalties are in the order of a $30,000 - $50,000 fine plus three - five years in gaol
What are some organisations that help stop animal testing? What do they do?
Firstly, the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) members have a duty not to approve or to stop any experiments that involve animals that they consider to be unnecessary, potentially cruel or not fully compliant with all the rules in the Code of Practice.
Secondly, the funding bodies who give out money to pay for research to be done, only fund research that they consider to have potential benefits to humans or other animals. If it does not get funded, then it does not happen. Research involving animals is very expensive due to the high cost of purchasing the experimental animals and then maintaining them while the research is conducted. For example, the average cost of a single mouse used in research is about $120 - they range from around $30 each up to $2,900 per mouse. It then costs somewhere between $50 and $500 per week to keep them and look after them in the special facilities that are required.
Thirdly, State Governments audit animal use and review AECs on a regular basis. They are also contacted if people become concerned about any animal use practices.
Fourth, organisations like the RSPCA play a role as watch dogs. The RSPCA will investigate reported cases of cruelty that appear to breach the animal welfare law of the state. AECs are not able to approve research that will breach these laws.
Lastly, organisations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Voiceless, and Animal Liberation protest against the use of animals and work hard to influence public opinion against the use of animals in research. These groups provide an important point of view that assist organisations like ANZCCART (The Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care and Use of Animals used in Research and Teaching) support the Code of Practice and ensure that researchers and teachers do the right thing whenever they do use animals. They also provide incentives to researchers and teachers to look for alternatives to animals for their work.
How can we help stop animal testing?
Research, testing and teaching using animals will only stop when alternate ways of doing the testing /experiments that currently require the use of animals are found. The Code that says "animals can only be used when there is no alternative". The development of these alternatives is costly and it is difficult to find alternatives for many current practices.
However, change is slowly happening and a lot of tests that once used animals are now conducted in other ways. Individuals can help by demanding that alternatives are found as quickly as possible and supporting that work, but it is worth remembering that many medical breakthroughs leading to treatments that we rely on today were only possible because of the use of animals.
Why are animals used in scientific experiments?
There are a number of different reasons for the use of animals in testing, research and teaching. These include:
- Sometimes the law requires it. For example, in Australia it is a legal requirement that new medicines be tested on at least two different species of animals before they can be tested on humans.
- Research involving animal cells or organs is of limited value unless it is verified by research involving complete animals.
- Where a disease affects only one kind of animal, often the only effective way to find a cure for it is to conduct research on that animal species. Research into facial tumour disease of Tasmanian devils is a good example.
- In schools and other educational institutions teaching students about the welfare of animals and how to manage and keep them requires animals to be kept, often as pets in the classroom or on a school farm.
- Wildlife research necessary to preserve a species usually requires work involving that species. For example, research may involve counting and observing animals in their natural habitat.
The common theme in all these examples is that animals are used because there is no viable alternative. It is an absolute requirement stipulated by both the Code and the Law, that alternatives must be used if available.
Is there any testing of cosmetics on animals in Australia?
The short answer is no. This practice was stopped when the code was updated in 2004. In practice, it had virtually stopped after the 1997 revision of the code.
The Australian Code of Practice requires that animals can only be used if there is no reasonable alternative. Another key requirement for approval of research involving animals is that the benefits that may reasonably be expected to come from the work must outweigh any potential cost to the animal’s welfare. The testing of cosmetic products on animals would fail both these tests because there are excellent alternatives to the use of animals available and it would be very difficult for an AEC to consider cosmetic use being justification for causing any pain to animals.
New laws have now been introduced in Europe that prevent the testing of cosmetics on animals in any European Union member country and, after March 2013, bans the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals anywhere in the world. Australia has as yet not introduced a similar ban, that is, although cosmetics cannot be tested on animals in Australia, cosmetics tested on animals elsewhere can still be sold here.
What types of animal testing (research) are done in Australia?
Animals are used for all sorts of things. Some examples include:
- Some Australian native animals are trapped, counted and tested for diseases and to find out how many might live in an area. This is an important part of what are called Environmental Impact Studies that must be carried out before an area can be developed. So for example, before the Government can approve a new mine, a new road through the country side, a new suburb, or anything like that, a study of this kind must be done to find out the likely effects of the new development on the animals (and plants) that normally live in that area.
- Sometimes native animals are used for research that might help to conserve a species. For example, you may have heard about the disease (a type of cancerous growth on their faces) that is killing off Tasmanian devils. There is a lot of research being done that is aimed at understanding this disease and working out how to save the devils. A lot of work is being done to protect other endangered species as well and includes looking at the effects of habitat destruction from both artificial and natural causes such as bushfires.
- There is also a lot of research to develop control techniques for pest animal species like the cane toad, foxes, rabbits, feral pigs, feral cats and so on. Even though these are pest animals and cause major damage to our environment, native wildlife and in some cases to farm animals, they are still living animals and have the ability to feel pain so all that experimental work has to comply with The Code.
- A lot of work is being done with fish. The aim of this work is to develop ways to breed and grow fish on fish farms in a way that is similar to farming sheep or cows that we farm for food. This will help to feed the world's growing population without over - fishing the wild stocks of fish that swim in the oceans.
- Some animals (mostly mice and rats, but also fish and other species) are used to assist in developing way to prevent or cure diseases that affect people and animals. A variety of different diseases like various cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and diseases of the immune system, nervous system and blood are studied using animals. Most treatments that doctors use to treat or cure diseases have required the use of animals at some stage. This includes anaesthetics required for surgery, antibiotics to treat infections, pain killers to stop pain and many other drugs and techniques used to treat a lot of more serious diseases.
- Many surgical techniques are also tested on animals. This includes techniques used on organ transplants, joint replacements and the removal of cancerous tumours to mention just a few.
- Animals are also used to conduct research on reproductive technologies that are used to assist couples who have fertility problems to have children.
Why is animal testing still happening?
There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, before any new drug or treatment can be used on human patients Australian law requires that it be tested on animals to ensure that it is safe for human use. Secondly, there are no viable alternatives for much of the research that is being undertaken by scientists.
Testing of new drugs or procedures is a lengthy process and animals are only involved in the latter stages after the drug or procedure has passed all previous tests and appears promising. The first step is computer modelling. The next stage is to test the new drug or procedure on cultured animal or human cells in a test tube or petri dish. Individual cells from an animal or a human are grown in an incubator and used to test whether the drug appears to work and whether it is safe. If it passes both those tests, then the new drug is usually tested in at least two different species of animal. All these steps are carried out to protect humans from drugs that will not work, might make them worse or could poison them. If it still looking good, then it may be used in what are called clinical trials which usually begin with a small number of really sick patients being given the new drug. If it works, further trials would take place with more patients. If these trials are successful the drug may then be registered for widespread use in humans.
What type of animal is most commonly used in research?
Research covers a huge range of activities and includes watching animals in the natural environment, counting animals in a particular area and studies that look at how best to feed and keep fish or other animals so they remain healthy and happy as well as their use in laboratories. If you look at all the animals that are used in Australia each year, then probably fish are the most commonly used, but they are being fed and watched so that they are healthy, happy and growing well.
The next biggest group would be animals that are being watched. So this would include birds, native animals and some stock animals where the research projects they are part of involve having researchers observing the behaviour of the animals, counting them, watching how they move, etc. These two major groups would account for over 90% of animals used in Australia every year.
Which types of animals are most commonly used in medical research experiments?
When it comes to medical research and drug safety testing, the top three most commonly used animals are mice followed by rats, most of which are specifically bred for this use. However, we are increasingly seeing zebra fish being used in these experiments as well.
Are chimpanzees and other primates used in medical research?
In Australia, it is illegal to use chimpanzees or what are termed "higher order primates" for medical research. There is a small amount of medical research being done that involves what are termed "lower order primates” such as marmosets. This is however very tightly regulated and restricted to very few specialist institutions.
These animals are all captive bred in facilities directly overseen by the National Health and Medical Research Council Animal Welfare Committee and special permission from them is required to use these animals in research. Hence very few are used each year and then only for the most important experiments that are done just before a new drug or treatment is used on patients.
Have any animal species died out or become endangered because of testing?
The short answer to this is no. Most animals used for research in Australia are bred specifically for such use.
Research using native animals is very closely controlled. Researchers wishing to study wild animal populations need to obtain a special permit from their state government (usually Parks and Wildlife Department or their equivalent in each State). One of the factors considered before granting such permission would be the status of the species and research involving endangered species is very closely scrutinised. Sometimes, researchers have to use a related species that is not endangered to do most of their work before they can work with animal species that are under threat. A lot of research on types of lizards, wombats or bandicoots that are endangered has had to involve working with their more common cousins first, so authorities and researchers can be confident that they will not harm endangered species.
Research on facial tumour disease in Tasmanian Devils provides another good example. This is a case where the research is aimed at saving these animals from possible extinction. Even so, the researchers have only been given permission to catch devils because there are still a lot of them around and a lot of the ones they are working with already have the disease. However, before any research was allowed, researchers and wildlife officers had to catch some healthy animals and set these up in parks and zoos around the country to ensure that there is a good number of healthy animals living, growing and reproducing in parts of the country where they will not catch the disease. That is, they had to take steps to protect the species from extinction, before the research could start
Where do the rats and mice used in research come from and why are they used?
Laboratory rats and mice are purpose bred in special breeding facilities. In Australia and New Zealand, many of these facilities are run and maintained by research institutions, others may be run as a private enterprise and some are government sponsored.
Many different strains of rats and mice are bred for use in research and because some are quite vulnerable to diseases, these breeding facilities have to be maintained at a high level of hygiene to ensure that no diseases can spread and infect the animals. Some mice and rats are bred to be affected by common human conditions that researchers are trying to cure. Some might be bred to be diabetic, others to be obese or to have a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease-like symptoms for example. One rat strain, SHR, is bred to have high blood pressure. A member of the animal care staff working in this section described the selective breeding process used to produce these rats in the following way: "We attach a tail cuff round each animal's tail and take its blood pressure". "Males with high blood pressure are mated with females with high blood pressure. The resulting hypertensive offspring are then sold to researchers to test out new blood pressure treatments.”
A researcher whose work relied on the use of these SHR rats to find a cure for high blood pressure explained her work by saying: "You cannot use tissue cultures for such work. You have to test chemicals on an entire living animal to uncover any unexpected side-effects on different organs. Mice and rats are surprisingly similar physiologically to humans and therefore very useful. If we didn't test drugs on rats and mice, there would be a lot more dead people. It is as simple as that." The researcher went on to explain that it is also crucial that scientists have a supply of healthy laboratory animals, because if they are not otherwise perfectly healthy we cannot be sure that they are responding to our new treatments in a reproducible way.