Animals in research, testing, and teaching

New Zealand, like many countries, uses animals (mainly rodents, cattle and sheep) for research, testing, and teaching purposes. Find out why animals are used, how to get approval, and the controls in force.

Animal research strictly controlled

Animal use in research, testing and teaching is strictly controlled under the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Any person or organisation using animals must follow an approved code of ethical conduct, which sets out the policies and procedures that must be followed by the organisation and its animal ethics committee.

All organisations with an approved code of ethical conduct or a notified arrangement to use another organisation's code, have to submit annual statistics on the number of animals used in research, testing or teaching, and the impact on those animals – from none to severe.

Animal ethics committees

Projects must be approved and monitored by an animal ethics committee.

Animal ethics committees must have at least 4 members, 3 of whom must be external members:

  • a nominee of an approved animal welfare organisation
  • a nominee of the New Zealand Veterinary Association, and
  • a lay person to represent the public interest (nominated by a local government body).

Every project that uses animals for approved purposes must demonstrate the benefits are not outweighed by the likely harm to animals. Examples of benefits may include the maintenance of human health, or the production and productivity of animals.

Animal ethics committees must regularly grade approved projects and report on them to MPI.

Code holders and their animal ethics committees are independently reviewed by MPI accredited reviewers at least once every 5 years.

What activities are defined as RTT?

Animal use in research, testing and teaching is covered under the term 'manipulation' in section 3 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999.

Changes to the definition in 2018

From 1 January 2018, the definition of 'manipulation' under the Animal Welfare Act expanded to include:

  • killing an animal for RTT on its body or tissues
  • breeding animals that have greater risk of pain or distress (for example, to research hereditary medical conditions).

These changes increase the range of animals and activities that require approval and oversight by animal ethics committees.

What you need to do

From 1 January 2018, organisations that carry out these activities must get animal ethics committee approval.

As with all RTT activities, organisations have to grade each project for the impact on animals and report it back to MPI.

When a code of ethical conduct holder grades and counts animal breeding for RTT, they must include:

  • parent animals as the breeding is classed as a manipulation
  • any offspring that are then used in RTT, as usual.

Guidance available

To support the changes, MPI and the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee have updated guidance material for RTT reporting. Download the updated:

Students must check first

Students wanting to use animals for school or research projects must check first with their teacher or supervisor to see if animal ethics committee approval is needed.

School student approvals

The New Zealand Association of Science Educators (NZASE) runs the Schools' Animal Ethics Committee. Its role is to consider and approve projects involving the manipulation of live animals for all teachers and school students (including home-schooled students).

Tertiary student approvals

Tertiary students should contact their university lecturers or polytechnic tutors for information on getting animal ethics approval.

Using animals at schools, universities, or polytechnics gives you a responsibility to care for the animals. The Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART) has ethical guidelines for students in laboratory classes. The council's website has a range of other resources and information for schools, researchers, and animal ethics committee members.

Types of animals used

Many types of animals are used for research, testing and teaching in New Zealand including:

  • rats and mice
  • rabbits and guinea pigs
  • fish
  • sheep and cattle.

Because of New Zealand's agricultural focus, sheep and cattle are the most common animals used.

Why use animals?

The use of animals contributes to new insights into all areas of life, including:

  • human and animal health
  • animal welfare
  • animal production
  • pest management
  • conservation.

The treatment and cure for many diseases relies on animal research. However, research is not just about developing new drugs for humans – many of the drugs tested on animals are being developed to benefit animals.

Research into animal behaviour, physiology and pathology also helps us better understand levels of pain and distress experienced by animals.

Rehoming animals after use

A recent petition from the New Zealand Anti-vivisection Society and Helping You Help Animals called for the Government to introduce a mandatory requirement to consider rehoming as an alternative to euthanasia for research animals (by amending Part 6 of the Animal Welfare Act 1999).

The Animal Welfare Act 1999 does not prevent rehoming of animals used in research, testing and teaching. MPI supports research, testing and teaching organisations considering rehoming laboratory animals as an alternative to euthanasia, where appropriate and in the interests of the animal. 

MPI and the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee are developing initiatives to support rehoming. 

Find out more

Who to contact

If you have questions for MPI about animal research, or the definition of manipulation, email animalwelfare@mpi.govt.nz

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