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54% want forced-swim testing of animals banned

17 Oct 19

Credit: PETRA
54% want forced-swim testing of animals banned
A rat being used in a forced flow swim test

14% of respondents in a nationwide Horizon Research survey support the continued use of the Forced Swim Test. 

The test involves forcing small animals such as rats or mice to swim in an inescapable beaker of water until they ‘give up’ and float. Some researchers use the test in an effort to mimic depression or hopelessness in humans.

The Horizon survey finds more than half (54%) of the respondents support a ban on the test and the remaining respondents (32%) were not sure.

The campaign to ban the Forced Swim Test in New Zealand is in line with public opinion according to a new survey, commissioned by the New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS) and SAFE, which commissioned the research.

"I’m not surprised that a majority of Kiwis want to see an end to this cruel and invalid animal test. We’re a nation of animal lovers and we don’t tolerate this kind of treatment of animals," says Tara Jackson, NZAVS Executive Director.

"We are in a time where the use of this test is being scrutinised widely by the public, the scientific community, and the pharmaceutical industry, which is publicly banning its use. This issue is relevant on a global scale," added Miss Jackson.

Pharmaceutical giants such as Johnson and Johnson and Sage Therapeutics have publicly committed to no longer use or fund this test. Three of the top ten pharmaceutical companies worldwide (in terms of revenue) have committed to banning the use of the Forced Swim Test.

Over 25,000 people signed the NZAVS and SAFE petition asking the New Zealand government to ban the Forced Swim Test and to conduct a full review and evaluation of the validity of animal-based psychological tests in New Zealand. The petition was presented to Parliament at the start of the month and is now with the Economic Development, Science, and Innovation Committee.

"We are hopeful that select committee members will do what is ethically and scientifically correct and listen to the nation. We don’t want this archaic experiment to be associated with Aotearoa any longer. The Government needs to act now and listen to public opinion," says Debra Ashton, SAFE CEO.

Survey details:

  • The survey involved 1,047 members of the HorizonPoll national panel and respondents of a third party panel, used for source diversity,  between October 3 and 9, 2019. The sample represents the adult population at the 2017 census, and, at a 95% confidence level, the maximum margin of error is of ± 3% overall.

Respondents were presented with the following information and arguments for and against the test before being asked if it should continue, be banned or if tey were not really sure:

Some universities in New Zealand are using what are called “forced swim tests” on rats and mice in research.

In the test, the animals are put into containers of water for periods of time in the course of research into anti-depression and anti-anxiety medications.

The test is based on the idea that a depressed mouse or rat gives up trying to escape the water while a less depressed one would try to escape for longer. It is said by some researchers that this mimics the human model of depression.


One university in New Zealand says the tests are limited to 5 minutes long and the mice and rats have no trouble swimming for this long.

The university says the test has proven to be good at screening and identifying potential new treatments for their effectiveness at treating depression in humans.

Using animals for teaching, research and testing purposes is legal in New Zealand. The Ministry of Primary Industries says rigorous processes are followed before tests are approved.


Academics against this testing argue that the test is flawed, and that evidence shows

  • Floating is actually a learned and adaptive behaviour
  • The test doesn’t show how humans would respond to medication and doesn't factor in that the causes of depression are still largely unknown.

They argue that trying to replicate a complex human condition such as depression by forcing mice and rats to swim for their lives is questionable, there are more relevant ways that research aimed at helping humans could be conducted. They say the test should be banned.