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Key: Animal testing may be forced offshore

Tuesday 29 Apr 2014 8:53 a.m.

Prime Minister John Key says recreational drugs may have to be tested on rabbits to prove they're safe for humans – as long as it doesn't happen in New Zealand.

The current law allows the testing of so-called legal highs on animals as a last resort, but the reason a testing regime hasn't been implemented is because it's unclear which animals can and can't be used.

With the Government planning to block the sale of the 41 synthetic cannabis products still on the market, the Labour Party has proposed an amendment banning the testing of future products on animals.

Mr Key yesterday revealed he'd personally blocked testing done on rabbits, but was open to using rodents.

"If it was a rodent, a rat, then I think most people would probably accept that as a step that you could take," he said on Firstline this morning.

"There has been a suggestion to me from health officials that testing on rabbits for instance would be required. I've told them that would be unacceptable to me for a variety of reasons. I think that's a step too far for most people."

But he admits that testing on rodents may not be sufficient.

"In the early days when they had thalidomide, the issue there was they tested it on rats – they didn't test it on rabbits. The belief is that had they taken the next step and gone to a different form of animal, in this case rabbits, it would have actually picked up the problem," he says.

"Of course the Government, if it accepts this testing, it would effectively be saying that yes, these products are safe. If the testing is inadequate and it's proved not to be safe, that's a problem."

So if testing on rabbits is required, but won't be allowed in New Zealand, then where?

"One option is to say people have to meet tests, but they'll have to do that testing in another jurisdiction, not in New Zealand," says Mr Key. "The question is whether someone could certify with a rabbit in another location – I don't know."

ACT's John Banks was the only MP to vote against the Psychoactive Substances Act when it became law last year. He says "wicked things" like synthetic cannabis should not be tested on any animal at all, and the Prime Minister is "absolutely" in the wrong for allowing it to happen – even to rats.

"No living animal deserves to be tortured to death in the name of proving that a mind-altering fun drug can be sold on this market," he said on Firstline this morning.

"Any decent human being would have a policy that we shouldn't test non-pharmaceuticals on animals."

He says the original Act was "very, very poor", but Parliament now has a chance to put things right.

"These are not pharmaceutical products to save people's lives – these are fun drugs that idiots might take on a Sunday. This is wrong. There should be no testing of these products on any animals – rats have feelings, rabbits have feelings, rhesus monkeys have feelings and beagle puppies have feelings.

"It is wrong to test fun drugs on animals, and we've got an opportunity now to say no."

Mr Key says Labour's proposed ban is likely to be rejected by Parliament.

The issue is set to be debated under urgency next week.

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