The SPCA and similar groups have put together a petition asking for a ban on testing `legal highs’ on animals. The petition shows that at least 2% of New Zealand voters support the ban, which doesn’t sound terribly impressive. The problem is that petition-gathering is hard, so it’s not really useful unless either you get to the referendum threshold or it’s an issue that the Government wasn’t really aware had significant public feeling. The petition opposing marriage equality (signed by nearly 2.5% of voters) had the same problem.
We’re going to get more basically uninformative numbers purporting to show public opinion from The Vote tomorrow. Judging from the first episode and the line-up, it will be worth watching for the arguments presented, and to see whether they affect the studio audience. The actual `vote’, on the other hand, really isn’t helpful — there’s no way that it can be interpreted even approximately as a summary of public opinion.
Even though the petition isn’t going anywhere, the issue of animal testing is worth thinking about. The official position that a ban on animal testing is outside the scope of the bill is actually more reasonable than it sounds. All the bill says about testing is in Section 35
35 Grounds for approving product
The Authority may approve a psychoactive product as an approved product only if the Authority is satisfied that—
(a)the application relating to the product—
(i)complies with the requirements of section 31; and
(ii)does not contain any materially false or misleading information; and
(b)the degree of harm that the product poses to individuals using the product is no more than a low risk of harm.
The Authority is largely on its own when it comes to policies and guidelines on how to establish the “low risk of harm”, and even on what that term means (to the extent that it isn’t implied by other law). Presumably the government will have input, and that would be a better place to get testing standards set.
If there happens to be pre-existing data from animal tests I can’t see any real justification for excluding it, but whether new testing on animals should be required, permitted, or forbidden is more complicated. It is absolutely necessary to test on whole mammals of some sort — I can’t imagine any regulatory committee, especially one with pharmacology and toxicology expertise, approving as ‘low risk’ a compound that had only been tested in test-tubes. If that worked, there’d be a whole lot less failed clinical trials. The question basically comes down to this: dogs or people?
There is actually a respectable ethical argument that testing in humans, who can volunteer, is better than testing in animals, who can’t. Most people don’t actually behave as if they believe this argument, but some do. Even in that case, the disadvantage of testing in people is that you have to use more of them, because you aim to leave them in better condition afterwards and so have to use lower doses and cruder measurements of effect. You might have to use, say, 20 backpackers to replace six dogs.
Personally, I think a better approach would be to decriminalize cannabis and MDMA, to cut out the market for the new smokes and party pills. The traditional soft drugs aren’t harmless by any means, but they seem to be a whole lot less dangerous than the new substitutes. If that option is ruled out, the proposed legal highs legislation is safer than the current policy of requiring dealers to churn through new formulations every few months, exposing people to more and more untested biologically-active chemicals. It does need some form of testing. Pick your species.