Calls for major change as ‘unacceptable’ deaths of 460,000 Aussie animals exposed

Calls for major change as 'unacceptable' deaths of 460,000 Aussie animals exposed

Dogs, cats, monkeys, dolphins, and koalas were among the more than 1.7 million animals used in experiments and teaching in Victoria in just one year, according to the most recent data released by the state government.

The report compiled by Animal Welfare Victoria (AWV) and released this year, shows that more than 460,000 of these animals were later killed after being used in research, teaching, and testing — an outcome which has been heavily criticised.

According to the report, 85,777 animals were also subjected to “moderate to major physiological challenge”—experiments that may include “severe infection, significant disability due to genetic modification, induction of cancer without pain alleviation, arthritis studies without pain alleviation, uncontrolled metabolic disease, [and] isolation or environmental deprivation for extended periods”.

Georgie Purcell thinks the community would be shocked by the outcome of the experiments. Source: AAP

Why experiments have been labelled ‘unacceptable’

Victoria’s Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell said the latest figures from 2021 were “unacceptable”.

“Twenty-seven per cent of these animals were killed after their ‘purpose’ was ‘fulfilled’, and that’s a seven per cent increase on the decade prior,” Ms Purcell said. “I think the community would be shocked to know which species are being used for these purposes – native wildlife, including those taken from their habitat, whales, wombats, monkeys, possums, macropods, dogs, horses, and plenty more.”

Ms Purcell said it was “essential” alternative non-animal testing methods be prioritised and funded. She said these included options such as in-vitro testing, lab-grown tissue testing, computer modelling, digital simulators, and human volunteer studies.

“There are effective non-animal testing options available and we must use them instead of harming animals,” she said.

Authorities ‘slow’ in reporting animal experiments

AWV is a sub-branch of Agriculture Victoria, within the state government’s Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.

Its data shows more than 30.8 million animals were used in research and teaching from the beginning of 2003 to the end of 2021. While published in March 2023, the information was only made public on February 29 this year.

There needs to be much more transparency than we have now.Professor Peter Singer

Due to the lengthy data collection and clarification process, the latest report only covers the period from 1 January to 31 December 2021. It is not yet known how many research animals were experimented on or killed in the state for the years 2022 and 2023.

A spokesperson for Agriculture Victoria said the government was continuing to “work with industry to find new alternatives” to animal experiments, and supported the rehoming of research animals wherever possible. “Over time, many animal experiments have been replaced by valid alternative methods, for example the banning in 2021 of animal testing for cosmetic ingredients,” the spokesperson said.

Could we phase out animal experiments?

Animal-Free Science Advocacy is an association working to eliminate the harmful use of animals in science. It was born out of the Sydney-based Australian Association for Humane Research, founded in 1979.

Association chief executive Rachel Smith said it was “disappointing” that the number of animals used in Victorian scientific research remained so high. “Without significant investment in changing the status quo, sentient animals, including non-human primates, will continue to suffer in laboratories in Victoria,” she said.

Ms Smith said her association accepted animal use may be permissible “under very limited conditions”, but that protecting research animals from harm was currently “at the discretion of individual research institutions with limited regulator oversight”.

More than 1.7 million animals were used for experimentation and teaching in 2021, which was 7 per cent higher than the 10-year average. Source: AWV

Why Australia continues animal experiments

CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, has more than 4000 industry and government partners and maintains 49 sites across Australia and overseas.

In response to the latest AWV report, a CSIRO spokesperson said all agency research involving live animals was reviewed and approved by a licensed animal ethics committee. “CSIRO takes the welfare of animals used in research seriously and adheres to the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, and all relevant legislation,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said research involving animals can improve the health, welfare, and productivity of farm animals; protect Australia’s environment and wildlife; and “benefit the health of humans where alternative methods are not available”.

“While CSIRO makes every effort to minimise laboratory research that requires the use of animals, sometimes it is required,” the spokesperson said. “For example, when testing vaccines before human clinical trials, such as the pre-clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine CSIRO conducted in 2020. New technologies and capabilities in developing non-animal models are becoming increasingly sophisticated and, in some cases, can be an alternative to traditional methods involving animals in research.”

How many Aussies are ‘unbothered’ by animal experiments?

In 2023, CSIRO published a report exploring strategies for using “non-animal models” in medical research. It found Australia needed to act urgently to accelerate and develop its capabilities in this area, and predicted that the next 15 years would see a decrease in the use of animals in medical product development.

For some, however, 15 years is too long to wait. A majority of Australians care about the use of animals in research, but do not feel well informed about the issue, according to a 2022 survey conducted by University of Adelaide researchers. The survey also found that only 20 per cent of Australians were unbothered by the use of animals in scientific research.

Death was the result of over 468,000 of the experiments. Source: AWV/Getty (File)

Call for release of more animal experimentation info

Internationally renowned philosopher Professor Peter Singer, author of the influential 1975 book Animal Liberation, is a world authority on the ethical treatment of animals.

Professor Singer said the latest AWV report indicated a steady increase in the number of animals being used in research and teaching, at a time when technological advancements “should be leading to fewer animals being used”.

“It suggests that researchers trained to use live animals are slow to adopt new methods of research, and Animal Ethics Committees may lack the expertise to reject the use of animals when alternatives exist,” he said.

Professor Singer also criticised the AWV report for a lack of transparency around specific experiments.

“The information that AWV provides does not provide the public sufficient information to understand how much pain and suffering is inflicted on animals, and what purpose actually results from these painful experiments,” he said.

“We know, for example, that 85,777 animals were subjected to ‘moderate to major physiological challenge’ and that this may include ‘uncontrolled metabolic disease; isolation or environmental deprivation for extended periods,’ as well as pain or distress that is not alleviated.

“But we are not told how many animals suffer in each of these ways, nor are we provided with information about what benefit, if any, these specific experiments actually yielded. There needs to be much more transparency than we have now.”

Versions of the AWV report prior to 2019 included breakdowns of the numbers of animals subjected to particular procedures. According to the 2019 report, this requirement was dropped as “this category consisted of a few select procedures and referred to some outdated practices”.

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Calls for major change as ‘unacceptable’ deaths of 460,000 Aussie animals exposed

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