The Royal Veterinary College is committed to the principles of the 3Rs of reduction, refinement and replacement. For each project it ensures, as far as is reasonably practicable, that no alternative to the use of animals is possible, that the number of animals used is minimised and that procedures, care routines and husbandry are refined to maximise welfare.

This process is undertaken by the College's Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB). This body involves lay representation plus external and internal members. It provides advice on the application of the 3Rs, matters relating to the welfare and care of animals, management and operational processes within facilities and the suitability of project proposals and subsequent review.

Where regulated procedures are carried out, ASPA licence authority, issued by the Home Office, is required. The detailed conditions which apply to the programme of work covered in the project licence, the conduct of personal licence holders undertaking procedures and to the standards of accommodation, care and welfare required in the establishment licence must all be adhered to.

The welfare of animals is a primary concern of the College. It therefore expects that such work is conducted to the highest standards, meeting or exceeding the legal requirements and associated guidance issued by the Home Office. All involved must undertake appropriate education, training, supervision and competency assessment before undertaking procedures with animals. The importance of our moral and legal obligations underpins our culture of care and compliance.

The College recognises that high standards of animal welfare contribute to good scientific outcomes which will in the case of veterinary research, ultimately benefit other animals.

The Three Rs (3Rs)

The Three Rs are basic principles of humane experimental technique that were first set out by Russell and Burch* in 1959. They are now widely accepted within the international scientific community and in associated legislation and guidelines, as a means of avoiding or reducing animal use and suffering and helping to improve the quality of science.

The 3Rs stand for:

Replacement: Using methods or strategies that replace or avoid the use of animals in research and testing.

Reduction: Reducing the number of animals used to achieve the scientific objectives, for example by improving experimental design and statistical analyses

Refinement: Refining scientific procedures and other factors affecting animals (for example transport, housing, restraint) to reduce suffering and improve the animals' welfare at every stage of their lives.

*Russell, W.M.S. and Burch, R.L., (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, Methuen, London. ISBN 0900767782

“The ‘R’ of Replacement”

This material, which was originally produced by the RSPCA in 2012, to help trainers/course providers teach about how “The ‘R’ of Replacement” could be applied to all or part of a project, was refreshed and updated in 2014. Available both as a Powerpoint Presentation and as a PDF:

ARRIVE Guidelines

Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments (ARRIVE) guidelines improve standards of reporting and ensure that the data from animal experiments can be fully evaluated and utilised. They are now widely accepted by leading academic journals in biomedical research.

See ARRIVE guidelines (NC3Rs website) for further information.

Ethical Review for Practice-based Research - Joint RCVS/BVA Working Party

A report was produced by a Joint RCVS/BVA Working party in 2013. Although it is aimed at clinical practices, it does provide useful guidance relating to ethical reviews. It discusses the distinction between clinical practice and clinical research and then considers under what circumstances research requires Home Office authorisation under the Animals Scientific Procedures Act 1986 (ASPA) and when it does not. 

Home Office guidelines

In 2010, the coalition Government made a commitment to reduce the use of animals in scientific research. In 2014 they published Working to reduce the use of animals in research: delivery plan. The plan builds on existing work, such as the NC3Rs ARRIVE guidelines to improve reporting standards and ensure that the data from animal experiments can be fully utilised.

In March 2015 they published a Delivery Report, which describes the progress made on actions set out in the Delivery Plan.

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