A local ethical review process (ERP) has been compulsory at all establishments using and/or breeding animals for scientific procedures in the UK since 1998. The RSPCA is a long-standing advocate of local ERPs and was instrumental in their introduction. The Society believes that ERPs are an essential adjunct to the Home Office Inspectorate in the implementation of the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and that they can significantly reduce the impact of science on animals.
Details of the aims and responsibilities of the ERP are set out in a Home Office Statement on the ERP (1998) (PDF 17KB), together with a Supplementary note on the ERP (2000) (PDF 28KB). These briefly describe the 'seven core functions' for the ERP, and list the people who should participate.
There is little other official guidance on ERPs, although the Home Office undertook a comprehensive Review of the ERP (2001) (PDF 70KB) system in 2001. This review identified examples of what at the time was 'perceived best contemporary practice'. It concluded that local processes were still evolving, but were already making a positive contribution to the welfare of animals bred, kept and used for experimental or other scientific purposes.
The RSPCA has produced a series of resources to help in the development and operation of local ERPs. The most recent report, Guiding principles on good practice for Ethical Review Processes (2010) (PDF 1.93MB), was developed and published jointly with the Laboratory Animal Science Association (LASA).
Future developments - 2013 and beyond
The European Directive controlling animal experiments was revised in 2010 and its requirements must be transposed into the laws of each Member State for implementation on January 1st 2013. Much of the UK law regulating animal experiments will remain the same, but it is as yet uncertain exactly how the ERP will be affected. There will be at least one change – the name will become the Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB). More information will be included on this website as it becomes available. The new EU Directive also requires each EU Member State to have a National Committee for the Protection of Animals used for Scientific Purposes (NCPASP). This will replace the Animal Procedures Committee (APC) in the UK.
Around the world
Many national laws now regulate animal experiments through a system that involves some form of ethical review, although the approaches and processes vary between different countries. For example, Sweden has Regional Ethics Committees, Australia and New Zealand have Animal Ethics Committees, whilst Canada has Animal Care Committees and the USA operates a system of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees.
A summary of ethical review systems throughout Europe can be found in the FELASA report Principles and practice in ethical review (2005) (PDF 511KB).