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Friday, 11 October 1985
Page: 1117

(Question No. 404)

Senator Puplick asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 20 August 1985:

(1) Did the Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Commonwealth Laboratories (Ross Committee) criticise the Animal Breeding Section of the National Biological Standards Laboratory for having:

(a) a low standard of animals;

(b) excessive related staff resources;

(c) excessive production costs; and

(d) unsatisfactory standards regarding considerations for animal welfare,

(2) What steps have been taken by the Government to rectify each of the criticisms referred to in (1) above.

(3) Did the Ross Report also recommend a high priority for the reduction of animal usage in the National Biological Standards Laboratory.

(4) Has any such usage reduction referred to in (3) above taken place; if so, what are the relevant details; if not, why not.

Senator Grimes —The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) Yes.

(2) New accommodation for the breeding of disease-free specific pathogen free mice has been provided in the Brucella building. The Pharmacology laboratory and its animal house have been transferred to better premises. A second veterinary officer, whose main duties are related to the control of animal disease, has been recruited and is operating in a well equipped diagnostic laboratory.

These actions have led to a marked increase in animal quality.

When the Report was released, the Government commissioned independent reviews of its findings in relation to the proposed new NBSL building generally and to the Animal Breeding Section particularly. These reviews were carried out by Dr John Smith, Animal Welfare Officer of the Australian National University, and by Sir Gustav Nossal, Director of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research.

Dr Smith examined the related areas of staff resources and production costs in considerable detail. He concluded that the staff requirements at that time were `acceptable and reasonable' and `would ensure that all animals are properly cared for at all times'.

Both Dr Smith and Sir Gustav Nossal commented specifically on standards of animal welfare. Dr Smith concluded `that the spirit of the NHMRC-CSIRO Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Experimental Animals in Australia is being observed by the NBSL', and Sir Gustav stated that `I feel it is important to record, however, that the dedication of Dr Brian Portas and his staff who look after animals in NBSL deserve high commendation'.

I should emphasise that NBSL has a fully functional Animal Experimentation Ethics Committee and that two veterinary officers, both specialists in laboratory animal science, are responsible for the care and health of the laboratory animals.

(3) Yes.

(4) This already had been given, and continues to have, high priority. The numbers of animals issued by the Animal Breeding Section have decreased by about 30% in the past 2 years. This decrease was largely due to the replacement of animal tests for the potency of insulins by physicochemical tests.

Other significant actions have been the development by NBSL of cell culture methods to replace animal tests for testing the toxicity of plastics such as urinary catheters which are to be inserted into the body, an internationally recognised initiative, and the introduction of cell culture and other in vitro methods to replace some of the animal tests previously performed on hormones and on bacterial and viral vaccines.

While further reductions in animal usage can be confidently expected in the next few years, it is highly unlikely that the need for some animal tests on the therapeutic products will entirely disappear.