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Animal Cruelty Experiments to be Outlawed in NSW

After facing criticism for failing to ban laboratory experiments that cause animal suffering, a Private Members Bill has introduced tough new laws.

A private members bill has taken the step that the NSW government refused to take last year—outlawing “cruel experiments” on animals. The law will make it illegal to subject animal test subjects to practices such as forcing them to swim or inhale smoke.

The bill, introduced by Animal Justice Party MP Emma Hurst, was passed in the NSW parliament’s upper house on Wednesday, Feb. 7. Ms. Hurst worked closely with Premier Chris Minns and Agriculture Minister Tara Moriarty to ensure that a sensible policy was implemented.

“A parliamentary inquiry in 2022 recommended these cruel animal experiments be banned, and finally they will be,” Ms. Hurst noted.

“They can not be justified because of the cruelty that occurs but also because they are simply unscientific.”

Ban Backed by the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council

Earlier this month, the Australian Research Council (ARC) endorsed the decision of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to prohibit funding any experiments that use the forced swim test.

The opposition Liberal Party will not support the bill, however.

Liberal MP Jacqui Munro told the upper house: “There is a limited place for retaining the option to conduct certain animal research tests including smoke inhalation and swim tests,” such as to investigate air pollution, the impacts of bushfires, and smoking and vaping. She said she was aware of only one reputable research facility with links to major universities in the state that carried out smoke inhalation tests.

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“These research projects are not being conducted in a frivolous matter and they’re not occurring for fun,” she said.

Fish Gain an Exemption from the Swim Test

The bill is expected to pass in the lower house after the government moved amendments to exempt fish from the forced swimming provisions.

Ms. Moriarty admitted: “One would be hard-pressed to say fish are forced to swim, however this amendment simply is about ensuring that the intended scope of the prohibition is abundantly clear.”

The NSW Greens supported the amendment, but MP Abigail Boyd described its “very strong suspicion” that “these amendments have been made simply to enable the government to accept this bill … rather than putting forward their own bill.”

In 2021, after three baboons escaped from a laboratory in Sydney, the state of NSW held a parliamentary committee inquiry into the use of primates and other animals in medical research. Despite the committee recommending the government ban tests considered cruel and ineffective, it took no action, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

The exact number of animals used in Australian laboratories is unknown, because there is no national system to collate statistics concerning animal use, and nor are states obliged to report.

As Many as 10 Million Animals Experimented on Each Year, PETA Claims

Based on the reporting that is accessible, however, PETA estimates that more than 10 million animals are used in labs in any given year, and claims The Florey, La Trobe University, the University of Melbourne, Monash University, and the University of Queensland still use the forced swim test.

Popularised in the 1970s, the forced swim test (also known as “the despair test”) was designed to gauge the efficacy of antidepressant drugs, but since then the initial interpretation of the test has been widely criticised by scientists.

It involves small animals such as mice being placed into beakers of water. They panic and try to escape by attempting to climb up the sides of the beakers or even diving underwater in search of an exit. They paddle furiously, trying to keep their heads above water, until eventually they start to float.

Experimenters initially assumed that animals who gave up swimming and spent more time floating were depressed, but experts later reasoned that floating is more likely to be an indication that animals are learning, conserving energy, and adapting to a new environment.

Analysis of data from 15 major pharmaceutical companies showed that the forced swim test is not successful in determining whether a substance would be effective in treating human depression.

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