Animal research

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7302.1603 (Published 30 June 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:1603

Journal editors could help raise profile of three Rs of animal research

  1. Penny Hawkins, senior scientific officer (Research_Animals@rspca.org.uk)
  1. Research Animals Department, RSPCA, Horsham, West Sussex HH13 7WN
  2. Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH
  3. Pig Disease Information Centre, Lolworth, Cambridgeshire CB3 8DS
  4. FRAME (Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments), Nottingham NG1 4EE
  5. 51 Woodbourne Avenue, London SW16 1UX

    EDITOR—The RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals) believes that the use of laboratory animals presents an ethical dilemma that affects everyone. Animals are used for a broad range of purposes, and thus it is not possible or constructive to make sweeping statements about scientific validity, justification, or suffering. Issues subject to such polarised debate are inevitably difficult to resolve. In this case, sentient animals capable of suffering are involved.

    The human race has a moral imperative to reduce the pain, suffering, and distress that it inflicts on other animals to an absolute minimum. In the case of animal experiments, the principle of the three Rs—replacement, reduction, refinement1—is an excellent practical starting point, and the RSPCA is committed to promoting and supporting it. Greater consideration is now given to implementing this concept, but it is not universally applied (or understood), and much is still to be achieved. One likely reason for this is that the three Rs are often seen as a separate issue and not part of mainstream life sciences.

    One way to raise the profile of the three Rs, and push for them to pervade the whole of the life sciences, would be for journal editors to insist that published papers include comprehensive information about the lifetime experiences of the animals involved. This could include their source, transport, husbandry and care, group sizes and structure, enrichment, what was actually done to the animals, protocol refinements, welfare problems (and what was done about them), and the animals' eventual fate (and why).

    Journal space is at a premium, but it is possible to convey this information in surprisingly few words. 2 3 Such detail would provide guidance for other researchers wishing to improve animal welfare and reduce suffering, as well as giving other interested parties …

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