RSPCA South Australia has welcomed a decision by the University of Adelaide to cease the Porsolt Swim Test, in which mice or rats are dropped into a glass cylinder filled with water and made to swim for their lives.
It is understood the test (first developed in the 1950s but used increasingly from the 1970s) was last carried out at the University in 2019. Originally named the “despair test”, it has been conducted in laboratories around the world for decades in the belief that it provides insight into human depression.
Distressing images of animals used in this experiment have shown them frantically swimming, trying to climb out and even diving to the bottom in a bid to find an alternate escape route. The trauma of the experience prompts many animals to defecate, before they eventually cease to swim and just float.
The RSPCA is opposed to the use of animals in experiments or procedures that cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm. RSPCA South Australia Animal Welfare Advocate Dr Rebekah Eyers said there was no justification in 2020 for allowing such a cruel and scientifically unfounded test.
“This awful example highlights how important it is for institutions’ ethics committees to thoroughly review all animal research applications and to refuse those that are scientifically unjustified and/or that cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to animals,” Dr Eyers said.
“Tests like the Porsolt Swim Test, that lack scientific validity, cause enormous distress to animals and are opposed not only by animal welfare organisations but also by many scientists, and medical and pharmaceutical companies, cannot be justified on any grounds.”
RSPCA South Australia encourages all institutions’ ethics committees to ensure any research they approve:
o has a sound scientific basis;
o is based on contemporary science and best practice;
o is using the growing range of non-animal models whenever possible
Where use of animals is assessed by the ethics committee as justified, the committee should ensure it doesn’t inflict pain/suffering/distress or lasting harm on animals and complies with the Animal Research CoP (Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes).
Unlike New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the EU, Australia currently has no national register that publishes the number/species of animals used or (a lay summary of) the research they were used for. Until this occurs, RSPCA South Australia maintains that it is impossible to know whether the three principals mandated by the Code (ie: replacement, reduction and refinement) are being properly implemented.
“Many Australians would be horrified to learn that tests like this are still being allowed in some of our tertiary institutions,” Dr Eyers said.
“A national register is essential to achieve the transparency and reduction in animal use for scientific purposes that the community expects.”