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Luxton Address to Joint AWAC/ANZCCART Conference

SPEECH NOTES: HON JOHN LUXTON (delivered by Joy Quigley, MP on the Minister's behalf)

Opening Address to Joint AWAC / ANZCCART Conference

Innovation, Ethics & Animal Welfare: Public Confidence in Science & Agriculture

Te Papa, Wellington 18 November 1999

Ladies and gentlemen it is a pleasure to be here today to open your conference.

It is also pleasing to welcome overseas delegates from the USA (including a group from the California Farm Bureau), Australia and the UK.

Since their establishment both AWAC and ANZCCART have achieved international recognition for the quality of their work in the form of welfare codes, annual reports and conferences such as today's. And I'm sure this conference will be no exception.

Both AWAC and ANZCCART aim to promote animal welfare and to encourage informed public debate on what are often complex, highly charged issues. This conference will further that debate by canvassing a wide range of issues relating to the use of animals in agriculture, research and teaching.

Without doubt, advances in science and technology create ethical dilemmas, excitement and in some cases concerns. This places particular obligations on the scientific community, the regulatory authorities, the media and politicians to act responsibly and to ensure a high level of informed debate. This conference will undoubtedly add to that debate.

The importance of animals to New Zealand agriculture

New Zealand's economic engine stems from our agricultural base, with food and fibre products providing over 75% of our country's exports. The importance of animals to this equation is fundamental. The national sheep flock currently numbers close to 46 million while our beef herd totals 4.2 million and our dairy herd is around 3.1 million.

As a food-producing nation, New Zealand must take cognisance of international trends one of which is a growing consumer concern for how our food is produced. Whether it be in the use of chemicals and pesticides, appropriate labelling, genetic modification or whether food is produced in 'animal friendly' manner.

Professor Sir Colin Spedding, past Chairman of the UK Farm Animal Welfare Council reinforced this view by stating "Most of the main retailers in Britain have already decided they should play a big role in deciding what is acceptable. Retailers are becoming the most potent force in setting standards and will be the major engine for influencing animal welfare changes".

"They can move faster than Governments, can cut off a supplier's livelihood by stopping contracts and can ignore international trade agreements. While Europe as a whole has to adhere to the World Trade Organisation, and cannot ban imports on animal welfare grounds, retailers are free to do so".

In future, New Zealand's animal welfare reputation is likely to play an increasing role in consumer perceptions and ultimately their choices of our agricultural products.

It is also likely that animal welfare, along with environmental issues, will have a greater profile in the lead up to the millennium WTO round. The upcoming meeting in Seattle will provide the opportunity for discussion on non-trade matters including animal welfare, environmental issues and biotechnology.

Biotechnology

Biotechnology is an issue that many countries are grappling with at the moment. The issue is currently being widely debated here. At times the debate has been pretty one sided. I believe the challenge for the scientific community is to provide soundly based arguments clearly expressed in lay terms, to help us understand this complex issue further.

Already biotechnology has provided us with innovative pharmaceutical products to treat diseases such as cystic fibrosis and emphysema. The insulin used today by most diabetics is a "biotechnology product".

The application of technology to animal husbandry and horticulture has given huge increases in production and much improved often-healthier food. It has saved much labour and made food products available to people at affordable prices. In a similar way, the application of science and technology to medicine has seen countless lives saved that would have been lost, and dramatically improved the quality of life for many.

The Government has taken a number of important initiatives to ensure that public debate on biotechnology (including genetic engineering) occurs and that an appropriate regulatory framework is in place.

The Independent Biotechnology Advisory Council (IBAC) was established in May of this year to explore and consider issues of biotechnology and genetic engineering. IBAC's independent status and the calibre of its membership will ensure that we receive high quality advice.

Just as there is considerable debate on the biotechnology question, there is also plenty of debate on the use of animals in science.

Ethics

The use of animals in research, testing and teaching is has become a contentious issue and there are strongly held views. In New Zealand in 1998, there were just over 300,000 animals used in research and teaching. Fora such as this one provide a continuing avenue for people with differing views to come together, to listen, to discuss and I hope respect other points of view.

Russell and Burch have said, " The only acceptable animal experiment is one which has been approved by an ethical review committee, uses the smallest possible number of animals and causes the least possible suffering, which is consistent with the achievement of its scientific purpose. The three R's should be seen as a unifying concept and as a challenge and an opportunity for reaping benefits of every kind - scientific, economic and humanitarian."

I believe that the system of Animal Ethics Committees that we have in place in New Zealand is an excellent one, which admirably reflects the view held by Russell and Burch.

All those wanting to use animals in research, testing and teaching must have an approved code of ethical conduct, which sets out the procedures and policies that an organisation and its animal ethics committee must follow. The system actively promotes the three R's (refinement, replacement and reduction) and in doing so challenges researchers to continually question and justify any research involving animals. I note that Australia has a similar system.

I was pleased to introduce and see the passage of the new Animal Welfare Act, which will commence on 1 January 2000. The new animal welfare legislation will further strengthen our aim in the care and protection of animals.

The provisions of the new Act relating to the use of animals in research, testing and teaching are more comprehensive and detailed than those in the previous Animals Protection Act. This will ensure greater transparency and accountability of research involving animals, as demanded by the public.

Research

New Zealand enjoys a good international reputation in respect to animal welfare, and it's one that I'm proud of. Our reputation is a credit to all those involved in animal production, husbandry, care and welfare and the use of animals in research, testing and teaching.

Inevitably, in the short to medium term at least, animals will continue to be used in research. I have previously noted the controls we have regarding their use. Research and innovation will continue to make a vital contribution to New Zealand's economic wellbeing

Innovation is going to speed up and the developments in agriculture offer some really exciting opportunities. R&D will assist the creation of new agricultural products from New Zealand's traditional agricultural industries.

As stated in the Government's Five Steps Ahead Package, the knowledge economy is very much about adding value through enterprise, innovation and new technology. This is already happening in New Zealand's agribusiness sector. New processes and technology have helped create new agricultural products from New Zealand's traditional agricultural produce.

Innovation is going to continue to be a driving force for economic growth, just as it has been in New Zealand agriculture for many years. The Government is committed to innovation but also is committed to ensuring considered and informed public debate.

ANZCCART

The ANZCCART objectives:

* to promote excellence in the care of animals used in research and teaching; * to ensure that the outcomes of the scientific uses of animals are worthwhile; and * to foster informed and responsible discussion and debate within the scientific and wider community regarding the scientific uses of animals

also complement the role of Government and actively involve groups such as the RNZSPCA, NZVA, Health Research Council, CRIs and Universities.

Conclusion

We use animals in a number of different ways, whether as companions, food, recreation or research. Clearly, the way we treat them changes as a reflection of changing societal values, international market requirements, consumer preferences and further advances in science and technology.

This conference will be important in furthering communication and understanding between those with differing views.

Before I close I would like to acknowledge the outstanding contributions made by Professor Des Fielden, Professor David Mellor and Mr Keith Robinson as they step down from their respective leadership roles on AWAC, ANZCCART and NAEAC.

I am looking forward to working with Mrs Wyn Hoadley, John Martin and David Mellor in their new positions. It is with much pleasure that I now declare the conference open.

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