The NSW government committee responsible for the inquiry into the use of primates and other animals in medical research has released its report, with 13 recommendations to the NSW Government for much needed improvements within the biomedical industry that will improve animal welfare.
Established in December 2021 following the escape of three baboons used in medical research, the inquiry garnered much public interest, with over 350 written submissions from industry groups, animal welfare organisations including RSPCA Australia, and concerned Australians. Overall, while there are still several issues needing to be addressed, the recommendations made were a promising step towards improving animal welfare within the medical research industry. Read on to find out more.
Some of the most harmful tests to be phased out
One of the earliest recommendations is that the NSW Government ensure the rapid phase out of the forced swim test and the smoking tower test due to increasing opposition and debatable scientific validity. The RSPCA supports this recommendation as these tests cause severe suffering to the mice involved and the negative welfare impacts far outweigh any health benefits to humans gained through these methods.
Review of the Animal Research Act 1985
The RSPCA was pleased with the recommendation to investigate opportunities for reform and review of the Animal Research Act 1985, with consideration given to several of the issues raised in our submission and in the inquiry. These will include the over breeding of research animals, the need for pre-registration and publication of negative medical research results to ensure robustness of results and transparency, and housing and care for animals used in medical research.
Some of the RSPCA’s particular concerns have been the lack of species-specific care and mandated welfare standards to meet the physical and behavioural needs of animals in research, as well as the lack of transparency regarding methods and results. Without pre-registration and regular publishing of results there cannot be a balanced view of how advantageous the use of animals in research is to human health or confidence that non-animal alternatives have been thoroughly explored. The RSPCA welcomes the recommendation to address these concerns.
Increased resourcing to fund audits and inspections
The need for enhanced transparency, nationally consistent reporting and regular in-person inspections and audits of research facilities has been a major concern for the RSPCA. Without measures to hold the industry accountable, there is little assurance of compliance with best welfare practices. The RSPCA is pleased with the recommendation that NSW Government increase funding to the Department of Primary Industries to resource the audit and inspection functions of the Animal Research Review Panel and reinstate three-yearly audits of animal research facilities as soon as practicable. This is an improvement on the previous code requirement of once every four years.
Primates excluded from recommended changes
Primates have highly sophisticated and complex social and cognitive capacities, and therefore meeting their needs in research setting to ensure they have a good quality of life is incredibly difficult. It is on this basis that the RSPCA opposes the use of primates for research. It is disappointing there have been no recommendations to reduce the use of primates in biomedical research at this stage.
While the use of animals for biomedical research is deemed necessary, it is essential that the sentience of these animals is recognised and that their welfare is considered a high priority. The RSPCA is pleased to see greater attention on improving the welfare for animals in research, and in particular, the push away from high impact studies that have limited research benefit. A number of the recommendations from the report align with RSPCA’s calls for greater transparency and accountability for animal-based research and we look forward to working with the NSW and federal governments to see these implemented.
Interested in reading more? What is the RSPCA’s view of the use of animals in research? – RSPCA Knowledgebase