• Adjournment Speech – Veterinarians Mental Health

    A series of studies conducted in recent years have identified elevated rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among Australian veterinarians, with a suicide rate four times higher than the general population. These figures are consistent with studies conducted in Great Britain and America. There is clearly a common thread concerning the mental health challenges of the profession. Murdoch University is currently conducting research on the mental health of Australian veterinarians, which will hopefully assist the profession in improving the mental well-being of its members.

    Multiple studies cite risk factors such as long hours and highly stressful decision-making, the difficulty of recruiting locums to take much needed breaks, and in rural areas these difficulties are compounded by professional isolation. These are common stressors across many professions, but there are additional emotional stressors, such as the regular killing of animals, combined with easy access to lethal drugs, that are unique to the veterinary profession. The 2016 Australian National Coronial Information System report noted a history of self-poisoning suicides linked to drugs available in veterinary clinics.

    While there are no equivalent Australian figures, British studies showed that 81 per cent of veterinarians entered the profession due to their desire to work with the human-animal bond. Women veterinarians in particular were identified as having high levels of empathy towards animals. This empathy towards animals may, in a large part, be the cause of the mental distress experienced by veterinarians. Across a range of international studies, young and female veterinarians are at greatest risk of job dissatisfaction, leading to mental health difficulties and suicidal ideation. “Compassion fatigue” or “vicarious trauma” was identified as a risk factor leading to suicide.

    The realities of veterinary practice can be emotionally gruelling. Many vets speak of the distress of being responsible for ending animals’ lives, either directly in the case of euthanising sick or injured animals, or worse, being required to kill perfectly healthy unwanted animals, or indirectly in the case of the slaughter of farmed animals. Vets also found themselves in professionally challenging situations where they encountered animal abuse and neglect. Some studies have questioned whether the routine euthanising or killing of animals impacted on attitudes towards death more generally.

    In surveys, vets showed higher support for human voluntary euthanasia than the general population. This attitude to death may even facilitate self-justification and lower their inhibitions towards suicide as a rational solution to their personal problems.

    As a society we could do a much better job of providing funding and resources to ensure that no vet is required to kill perfectly healthy animals that have been abandoned or surrendered to council pounds or RSPCA shelters. The growth of no-kill shelters not only is a more humane approach to companion animals but also removes the risk of psychological harm to vets who are forced to administer the “green dream” to healthy animals. Even the upside of being a veterinarian—having clients with strong emotional ties to their companion animals—could create distress. The emotional intensity of that bond adds stress when the time arrives for euthanising sick or aged animals that are considered part of the family.

    I commend the work of our veterinarians in alleviating animal suffering. My personal heroes are those vets who find the time to work pro bono or provide discounted fees to companion animal rescue groups, wildlife carers and farmed animal sanctuaries. Perhaps the Australian Veterinary Association may consider supporting veterinarians as they deliver these services as a way of providing a channel for their compassion and empathy towards animals.

  • Question without notice-Kangaroo meat consumption

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries. Has the NSW Food Authority conducted a robust and detailed analysis on kangaroo meat sold for human consumption? If so, did this analysis test for E. coli, salmonellosis and other relevant contaminants as well as acetic acid, which make it delicious. If E. coli was detected was typing done for the specification of the E. coli? If no such analyses have been done, will the Minister authorise the appropriate testing to be conducted?

    The Hon. NIALL BLAIR: When it comes to food safety and the kangaroo meat industry the NSW Food Authority has an excellent record. About two trips ago when I visited the NSW Food Authority I ran into an inspector who had just returned from an inspection at a kangaroo meat facility. Indeed, when I was asked this question about the role of the NSW Food Authority and kangaroo meat it reminded me of that chance encounter. I am aware of media discussion regarding an ongoing campaign intended to bring attention to alleged cruelty in the kangaroo meat sector. I am also aware of claims, repeated in the media, that kangaroo meat contains pathogens that can be harmful to humans.
    First, let me say that as kangaroos are native fauna, the Office of Environment and Heritage manages the commercial harvesting program in New South Wales. This program is intended to ensure kangaroos are culled humanely and that kangaroo populations are sustainable. Requirements for the humane slaughter of kangaroos are specified in the National Code of Practice for the Humane Shooting of Kangaroos and Wallabies for Commercial Purposes. This code of practice is prescribed as a condition of licence by the Office of Environment and Heritage. The risk that meat for consumption will come into contact with pathogenic organisms such as salmonella or E.coli is not a risk that is specific to kangaroo meat; this is a known risk factor for many types of meat and other food products.
    A key component of the role of the Food Authority is to work closely with industry in New South Wales, across all points of the supply chain to minimise the risks posed by such pathogens. For the kangaroo meat industry the Food Authority licenses kangaroo harvesters and processors in New South Wales and those facilities must be able to show traceability of product throughout the supply chain from harvest to the plate. All kangaroo game meat processed, manufactured or sold in New South Wales must comply with the Australian Standard for Hygienic Production of Game Meat for Human Consumption. The Food Authority also enforces established handling and storage requirements for kangaroo meat to further reduce any risks due to microorganisms. While the Food Authority has strict systems and requirements in place to ensure kangaroo meat is safe, it is important that all raw meats are cooked and stored at the correct temperature. This helps to reduce the presence of any microorganisms that may be present in the meat and to prevent microorganisms forming after it is cooked.
    Government authorities, including the Food Authority, also regularly inspect game meat processing facilities, field depots and harvesters—for example, the chance encounter I had with the inspector to which I referred earlier. The authority’s audit and inspection program ensures that kangaroo harvesters, chillers and processors comply with the food safety requirements set out in the specific food safety program that each business is required to have. The minimum inspection frequency varies for different types of facilities. Harvesters are inspected once every two years, chillers are inspected— [Time expired.]

    kangaroo-meat-trade-1

  • Question without notice- Antibiotic Resistance

    The Hon. MARK PEARSON: My question is directed to the Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for Multiculturalism, representing the Minister for Health. My first question to the Minister is: With the Government’s current focus on biosecurity, what investigations have been undertaken to satisfy public health authorities that there will not be any further cases of antibiotic resistance in the general public similar to the Vancomycin-resistant enterococcus [VRE] of the early 2000s? Secondly, given that there were no health department investigations into the VRE cases at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and given the ongoing use of antibiotic-type substances such as coccidiostats in intensive farming of animals, will the Minister establish an inquiry into this use of antibiotic-type substances and the potential impacts on human health?
    The Hon. JOHN AJAKA (Minister for Ageing, Minister for Disability Services, and Minister for Multiculturalism): I thank the member for his question. It is clearly a detailed question, or questions. I will refer it to the Minister for Health and seek a detailed answer.

  • 17/03/2016: Question without notice, Baboons used in medical research

    Mark asked the Minister for Medical Research and Assistant Minister for Health. An answer was provided on the 4th of May. Apart from the general lack of oversight revealed in the answer the alarming fact that the Animal Research Act 1985 restricts the disclosure of information obtained about specific research projects. If everything is ok and acceptable to community expectations then what does the government and researchers have to hide? Transparency is key for community trust so why is it that anything relating to animal use hidden from the community and the citizens whose taxes fund this research?

    Would the Minister advise the House of the critical outcomes of the medical research conducted from 2012 to 2015 on baboons kept at the Wallacia facility, pertaining to xenotransplantation, including whether xenotransplantation was performed on a baboon known as Conan?

    1. If so, was this the first of its kind in the world?
    2. Did Conan die due to complications from this procedure?
    3. What experiments were performed on the baboons known as Scar, Belvedere and Frazer? What were the causes of their deaths?

    ANSWER

    The Department of Primary Industries administers the Animal Research Act 1985.
    The Department accredits animal research establishments and receives reports on animal use statistics from them each year, which are collated and reported in the Animal Research Review Panel Annual Report. The information collected is general and deals with numbers of different species of animals used for categorised purposes and categorised levels of impact. The Department does not routinely collect more specific information about individual research projects.
    On a needs basis, information is obtained about specific research projects in the course of administration of the Act. The Act restricts the disclosure of this information.
    Each accredited establishment is responsible for ensuring that research applications are approved by their Animal Ethics Committee. The research applications must include detailed information including the justification for the use of animals, as well as the impacts of all parts of the research project on the animals, and how these impacts will be minimised.
    Published articles are available in the scientific literature on the use of baboons from the National Baboon Colony for xenotransplantation studies. See for example the American Journal of Transplantation June 2014

  • 11/08/2015: Medical Advances Without Animals Trust

    Motion by the Hon. MARK PEARSON agreed to:

    (1) That this House notes that the Medical Advances Without Animals [MAWA] Trust operates as an independent medical research and educational trust which facilitates the development and use of non-animal based experimental methods by working cooperatively with the research community.

    (2) That this House acknowledges and congratulates:

    (a) the leading role that the MAWA is taking in replacing the use of animals and animal products in the field of medical research and consequent improvements in human health;

    (b) the MAWA for directly funding a wide variety of research projects and advanced scholarships to support research into a vast range of diseases, disorders and disabilities in leading universities and research institutions Australia wide, such as research within the fields of immunology at the University of Sydney and regenerative medicine at the University of Western Sydney; and

    (c) the recent renewal of the partnership between the MAWA and the Australian National University to establish the Australian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Research.

    Hansard link – HERE

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