ANZCCART FAQs for School-aged Children

ANZCCART commonly received a lot of questions from children around Australia and the following represents a collection of the top 12 most common questions (as asked).

 We hope some of this information we provide as answers might be helpful for you and may 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.

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    • 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).  The Code explains what is required of investigators, institutions and animal ethics committees (AECs).

      You can download a copy of The Code for free.

      In addition, every State and Territory of Australia has laws that protect animals and these apply too. These determine what certification and licences are needed by investigators and institutions to use animals in scientific research. 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 all animals used for research or teaching 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 also 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.

      An animal can only be used if there is no alternative to using that animal, its use is fully justified and every reasonable means possible is taken to look after the welfare of the animal so it does not unnecessary suffer pain or distress. An AEC reviews applications and decides whether or not to provide approval for the work to go ahead. Applications that are not approved cannot be undertaken.  There are harsh penalties for breaking laws relating to the conduct of experiments involving animals. These vary from State to State but can include significant fines or even gaol terms for serious breaches.   

    • 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 state legislation that alternatives must be used if available

    • What types of animal research are done in Australia?

      Animals can be used in research for a variety of reasons. Some examples include:

      • Environmental impact studies – Some environmental impact studies simply count animal numbers and document aspects of their lives such as group sizes, habitat and diet. Other studies trap, count and test animals for diseases. These sorts of studies are often carried out as part of planning processes to find out the likely effects of a new development on the animals (and plants) that normally live in that area. Other studies might test the impact of certain chemicals or changes on animals if introduced into the environment.
      • Conservation - sometimes native animals are used for research that might help to conserve a species and protect their habitat. For example, you may have heard about the cancerous facial disease 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 or predation by invasive pest animals. 
      • Invasive pest control - research to develop control techniques for pest animal species like the cane toad, foxes, rabbits, feral pigs, feral cats etc is also common. This research may involve trapping, tagging, testing of control agents/ chemicals or introducing other predators or animals with selective traits to reduce breeding capacity. It is useful to note that even though these are pest animals which can 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. 
      • Animal production – this is research that is focussed on improving the growth and productivity of farm animals or animals used for food consumption. This research often focuses on developing new ways to breed or care for animals including investigating how changes in what they are fed can improve their growth and health.
      • Disease prevention or treatment - some animals (mostly mice and rats, but also fish and other species) are used to assist in developing ways to prevent or cure diseases that affect people and animals. A variety of different diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, dementia and diseases of the immune system, nervous system and blood are studied using animals. Most medicines that are used to treat or cure diseases have required the use of animals at some stage to test whether they are safe and effective. This includes anaesthetics required for surgery, antibiotics to treat infections, pain killers to stop pain and many other drugs and techniques used to treat other more serious diseases. 
      • Medical devices/ advancing surgical techniques – changes to surgical techniques or the development of new or improved medical devices are also often first tested on animals to ensure safety and efficacy. This includes techniques used on organ transplants, joint replacements and the removal of cancerous tumours to mention just a few.
      • Reproductive technologies - research on reproductive technologies that are used to assist couples who have fertility problems to have children can also be tested on animals. 

       

    • What are some organisations that help stop animal testing? What do they do?

      There are many organisations that play a role in approving/ not approving or monitoring animal testing or advocating on behalf of animals.  Some of these include:

      • Animal Ethics Committees (AEC) – these committees 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 Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (8th Edition, 2013) (the Code) and any other relevant state animal welfare legislation.
         
      • Funding bodies – organisations who pay for research have a responsibility to only fund research that is properly designed, approved and conducted, has the potential to provide benefits to humans or other animals and where it involves animals - cannot be done any other way. Research involving animals is often very expensive due to the high cost of purchasing experimental animals and then maintaining them while the research is conducted. This can amount to several tens of thousands of dollars in a research project.  If funding is not provided for a research project and it does not have AEC approval then it cannot be conducted.
         
      • State Governments – there are specific government agencies that have a responsibility to audit animal use, review the functioning and decisions of AECs and any approvals given on a regular basis. They are also contacted if people become concerned about any animal use practices.
         
      • Animal welfare organisations – organisations like the RSPCA play a role in investigating any reported cases of cruelty that appear to breach the animal welfare laws of the state. 
         
      • Advocacy organisations such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), Humane Research Australia, 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 assists organisations like ANZCCART (The Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care and Use of Animals used in Research and Teaching) to support the Code and ensure that researchers and teachers do the right thing whenever they do use animals. They sometimes also provide grants to researchers and teachers to look for alternatives to the use of animals in their work.
         
    • How can we help stop animal testing?

      Research, testing and teaching using animals is likely to still be needed until alternate ways of doing the testing /experiments are found.  The Code which governs the use of animals for scientific purposes and relevant state legislation requires that animals can only be used when there is no alternative.  While it is currently difficult to find alternatives for many practices, change is happening and there are a lot of tests that in the past used animals which are now conducted in other ways.  Individuals can help by advocating for alternatives to be found.  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 in the past. 

    • Is there any testing of cosmetics on animals in Australia?

      No. The testing of cosmetics on animals in Australia had virtually stopped after the 1997 revision of the Code governing the use of animals for scientific purposes and then when further changes were made again in 2004.  The Code requires that animals can only be used if there is no reasonable alternative and 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 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. 

      Legislation to formally introduce a ban on using data from tests on animals for determining the risks of new cosmetic ingredients was also recently passed by the Australian parliament and came into effect on 1 July 2020. This ban prevents this type of testing in the future and will limit the number of new cosmetic ingredients introduced to Australia that have been tested on animals in other countries. Similar legislation was also introduced by the European Union (EU) in 2013.  The EU legislation also bans the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals anywhere in the world.

    • Why is animal testing still happening?

      There are three 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 and it works. Secondly, there are no viable alternatives for much of the research that is being undertaken by scientists. Thirdly, some research or testing for the benefit of animals (e.g. conservation, disease management) needs to be conducted on those animals in order to know that it is effective.

      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 testing in animals is successful then it may be used in human clinical trials with a small number of specially selected participants. If this stage is promising then further trials would then take place with a greater numbers of participants. Only if these trials are successful can a drug be registered for widespread use in humans.

    • What type of animal is most commonly used in research generally?

      Research covers a huge range of activities and includes everything from watching animals in the natural environment, studies that look at how best to feed and keep animals so they remain healthy, to the use of animals in laboratories for testing new treatments.  If you look at the animals that are used in research in Australia each year there are two main groups.  1) Where a treatment is given – mice and rats are the most commonly used. The use of fish in this type of research is also increasing.  2) Observational studies - these studies often include large numbers of 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. 

    • Which types of animals are most commonly used in medical research experiments?

      When it comes to medical research and drug safety testing, the most commonly used animals are mice and rats.  Most of these animals are specifically bred for this use.  However, zebra fish are increasingly being used in these experiments as well. 

    • Are chimpanzees and other primates used in medical research?

      Yes, but only under very limited and strictly controlled circumstances. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) provided grants to two non-human primate colonies from 1993 to 2018 – a baboon colony in NSW and a marmoset and macaque colony in Victoria, from 1993 to 2018. Between 1993 and 1997, NHMRC also provided a grant to a marmoset colony in South Australia, which was then merged with the marmoset and macaque colony in Victoria. The funding was to assist institutions responsible for the colonies to provide a consistently high standard of care of non-human primates to be used for research purposes. All NHMRC funding ceased in 2018. These animals are used to study areas such as reproductive diseases and vision.  Those involved with the use of non-human primates must first ensure that there is no other way of obtaining the necessary information. If it is absolutely necessary to use non-human primates, their use must be ethical and humane, comply with all relevant legislation and meet the highest possible standards. Source:  NHMRC (https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/about-us/resources/use-non-human-primates-scientific-purposes)

    • Have any animal species died out or become endangered because of testing?

      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 selectively 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.

      Rats and mice are used in research when there are no other alternatives.  For example, in research on high blood pressure it is not possible to use tissue cultures as you need to test the effect of different chemicals on an entire living animal to uncover any potential unexpected side-effects on different organs.  If testing on animals didn’t occur these unexpected side-effects may be unknown and then subsequently occur in humans when used leading to serious harm or death.