Animal Research at Otago

Animal testing is always a hugely controversial and divisive topic, with each side rigid in their beliefs. The University of Otago are following through on plans to spend $50 million on a new animal research facility meaning the debate has reared its head once again throughout campus. If you’re reading this and remain undecided, take a read and see if either side can sway you.


Secretive Animal Research Facility Decision Goes to Referenda

By Oska Rego

Next week’s referendum will ask: “Should OUSA lobby the university to cease development of a new animal research facility until the University has transparently consulted with students on the financial, ethical, and scientific value and implications of investing in animal-based research?”

The university planned the facility in secret; it didn’t announce it until after approval behind closed doors. This precluded any discussion about ethical, scientific or financial implications. There was no opportunity to raise counterarguments or suggest alternatives. Construction began last year on Great King Street behind high, black walls, and the university has repeatedly refused to publically comment on, or justify, their decision.

Other controversial decisions, such as cuts to humanities departments or increases to CCTV on and off campus, have similarly been made without consultation with those who contribute to the university, financially or otherwise. The university is distancing itself from most of the people whose lives are closely connected to it.

Construction has been quoted as costing $50 million. This is galling, particularly given sagas like the humanities cuts, which give the impression that the university doesn’t have money spare for investing in increasingly outdated scientific practices.

Physiological differences make animals poor models for testing how drugs, medical equipment and methods will perform for humans. 92 percent of drugs that pass animal testing procedures fail human trials. Given growing awareness of the inherent flaws in animal-based research, and the increasing demand for alternatives, it has been suggested that it would be more astute to invest in something like a ‘Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing’, which exist at some American and Dutch universities.

Ethically speaking, the confinement, suffering and death experienced by lab animals is rarely justified by meaningful scientific or educational outcomes. Focusing attention on utilising alternatives to laboratory animals would reduce these harms, and give students more opportunity to opt-out of using animals during their studies. Currently, many students are faced with a difficult choice between not studying their preferred course, or having to undertake animal-based experiments that generate no new information.

Do consider voting ‘yes’ to the online referendum question. The facility isn’t due for completion for at least 18 months (a conflicting estimate from the university said it would take three years). There is plenty of time for plans to change. The university must start taking the views of its staff and students on board. Regardless of your views on this issue, if you tolerate this, the next secretive decision the university makes might affect something you care about.


In Defence of the Animal Research Lab

By Campbell Calverley

It has been established for a number of years now that Otago uni’s current animal research facilities are in need of replacement. As such, the new animal research facility is crucial. We can all agree that cosmetic animal testing is unnecessary, but animal-based research is a key part of our ongoing understanding of medical science.

Animal-based research is necessary for research where human-only research is either unfeasible or too dangerous. Something along the lines of expanding ZenTech isn’t enough to replace animal testing. The potential risks during testing – for example, unexpected reactions to treatments - are simply not worth taking. The only humans who could be tested on for specific conditions would be those already in dire need of treatment. Testing on animals provides a safer opportunity to observe unexpected variables that would not be present in a simulation.

Everyone must understand a key point: humans are NOT the only animals who benefit from animal-based research. The common cry for “human-relevant” research assumes that diseases affecting animals do not develop over time. New Zealand’s agricultural economy, our culture of environmental protection and the conservation of endangered species, vaccines, veterinary research, the treatment of parasites in farm animals and pets, the fish in New Zealand’s waterways, native animal sanctuaries – these are all areas that crucially depend on ongoing animal-based research.

Looking at the issue from this perspective, anyone who is against the animal research lab must also consider the ethics of NOT doing potentially life-saving research.

The university has an astonishingly strict code of ethics in the treatment of animals used in research, and anyone can read it if they google it. Each experiment must go through multiple stages of review – if the animals are not in the highest standard of physical and psychological health and care before and during the experiment, or the experiment is deemed not important enough, it is not allowed. But even if an experiment is unsuccessful, the knowledge gained from it is still valuable. A failed attempt to repair mouse hearts with stem cells may lead to better treatment of post-heart-attack patients, for example.

Otago’s standard in performing animal-based research can only improve with a new research centre. From the perspective of this humble Humanities student, the most ethical thing to do is to ensure that scientists have the chance to do better science. That is what the new animal research lab will achieve.

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2017.
Posted 11:09am Sunday 21st May 2017 by Oska Rego and Campbell Calverley.