NSW Could Be the First Jurisdiction to Ban the Forced Swim Test

Posted on by Dan H

Update 14 March 2024: The bill officially passed today and will be law pending assent.

Further use of the forced swim test and the smoke inhalation test will soon be illegal in New South Wales! Thanks to a private members’ bill that passed in the state’s parliament earlier this week – brought forward by the Animal Justice Party and backed by Animal-Free Science Advocacy – experimenters will no longer be allowed to initiate new projects that force mice and other mammals to experience the panic of near-drowning or the plethora of health issues caused by smoke inhalation.

Finally, lawmakers are recognising what we’ve always known – that animals are not ours to experiment on. PETA has long protested the cruel and flawed forced swim test, which is so harmful and scientifically invalid that even the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council is prohibited from funding any experiments that use it.

What Is the Forced Swim Test?

Also known as the “despair test”, the forced swim test was supposed to provide insights into human depression, but scientists are divided about the correct interpretation of the results. At first, animals used in this test panic and try to escape by attempting to climb the sides of the beakers or even diving underwater in search of an exit. They paddle furiously, desperately trying to keep their heads above water, until they eventually start to float.

Some experimenters claim that animals who spend more time floating are depressed, but other experts reason that they’re more likely learning, conserving energy, and adapting to a new environment.

Forcing frantic animals to swim for fear of drowning is both physically and psychologically abusive – not to mention irrelevant to human depression. Analysis of data from 15 major pharmaceutical companies shows that the forced swim test doesn’t accurately predict whether a compound will have antidepressant efficacy in humans.

With this new legislation, NSW could be the first jurisdiction in the world to outlaw the cruel forced swim test. Now, other Australian states and territories are being urged to follow suit, and anyone still using animals as laboratory equipment must transition to more humane – and scientifically defendable – research methods that don’t rely on animals at all. Until a full ban comes into effect in Australia, please urge university executives to ban the forced swim test at their institutions.