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Australian code of practice for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes submission

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Public consultation question 5.  Veterinary involvement in research on animals, including, for example, the conduct of procedures such as anesthesia and surgery. 

Could surgery include any invasive procedures such as blood or tissue sampling for genetics, marking of animals, tagging, administering sedatives or relaxants to animals that might be dangerous to handlers or themselves if not sedated, for measuring and to prevent stress-related damage (e.g. to prevent post-capture myopathy in some kangaroos, or to relax potentially dangerous dingoes or possums?)

Professional zoologists specialise on particular groups of animals. They are therefore much more experienced than most veterinarians with working on particular species of animals, and with specialised sets of techniques needed for each species. In particular, vets receive little or no training in species differences in wild animal behaviour and physiology. Lack of species-specific knowledge has lead to bad outcomes for wild animals in the past in some cases. For example, a  few years ago a generalist vet insisted on sedating an endangered wallaby in a case in which animals were being transported for a reintroduction, despite strong advice from experts on this species that this was unnecessary for animal welfare in this case, and likely to be detrimental on release at the destination. Several animals died after release. Requiring vets to be involved in all invasive procedures implies that they would be able to over-rule wildlife biologists with more experience of particular wildlife species- this should not be enshrined in the code.

Existing animal ethics application sections ensure that researchers without the appropriate experience do not perform anesthesia and surgical procedures including genetic sampling and tagging until they are thoroughly trained.  Requiring a veterinarian to be present during procedures for which researchers are well trained and experienced has the potential to significantly hamper the research of Australian biologists, especially in the case of fieldwork in remote areas. This is very concerning, especially in the case of conservation projects, for example involving genetic sampling or radio tagging of threatened species or invasive species at remote sites to determine courses of action for species recovery. It would be very difficult to find a vet who could go on such trips for the several weeks required.


Second issue – proposal to add another category of membership to animal ethics committees


Public consultation question 10.  Membership of animal ethics committees.

At present, a third of the members at the meeting must be from categories C (people independent of the organization with interest in animal welfare and endorsement by an animal welfare organization) and D (people independent of the organization who have never used animals in research or teaching).  It is already very difficult for the university to find Category C and D members for its animal ethics committees, given the large (unpaid) time commitment they must make to read all applications (typically >50 pages each) and be present at monthly meetings.  The more categories of membership there are for these committees, the more likely it is that the absence of particular C or D members will stop research proposal assessments, delaying important research projects.

Page reviewed: 1 March, 2013