null Four big ways we're helping lab animals

Four big ways we're helping lab animals

To mark World Day for Animals in Laboratories (Saturday 24th April), we're looking back at some of our specialist Animals in Science team's key activities and achievements from the past 12 months.

Our Animals in Science team are dedicated to helping lab animals. They work closely with others involved in the regulation, care and use of animals in research and testing in the UK and across the world with the aim to reduce the impact of science on animals.

Our team's primary aim is the replacement of all animal experiments with humane alternatives worldwide. Until this can be achieved, their work helps to ensure that the minimum numbers of animals are used, that animals experience the minimum suffering possible, and that all lab animals' welfare is significantly improved in the meantime.

Here at the RSPCA, we continually look for the next way that we can maximise the impact of our work. But sometimes it's also useful to look back to see how far we've come. Here's what the last year has looked like for our work to help animals in science...

'Severe' suffering is now 51% lower than in 2014

Earlier this year, we launched our bold new strategy that sets out our vision of a world in which all animals are respected and treated with kindness and compassion. Within this, our ambitions for laboratory animals are that by 2030, we will have secured a global commitment to developing, validating and accepting non-animal technologies to replace animal experiments, and have put an end to 'severe' suffering for all laboratory animals.

Work towards achieving these two essential goals will include ensuring that every establishment using animals in experiments is committed to effectively challenging whether and how animals are used, and taking all possible steps to avoid or reduce animal suffering. It will also include helping to ensure poorly designed, conducted or reported research using animals is recognised as unacceptable and making sure the public is regularly and properly consulted about their views around the use of animals in research.

We've been working on our pioneering project 'to end severe suffering' for the past few years - and have been making positive progress. 'Severe' suffering is the highest level of suffering it is legally permitted to cause an animal for scientific purposes. Of course, we care about the use and suffering of any lab animal, but we're particularly concerned about the animals who suffer most severely - so ending this is one of our top priorities.

When the most recent official data was published by the UK Government last summer, we were pleased to see yet another fall in the number of animals experiencing severe suffering, which shows the effect that our work is having already. The total has been decreasing year on year and is now 51% lower than in 2014 (when data on severity was first collected). But of course, there's still more to do if we're to realise our target of reaching zero!

Read more: View our 'focus on severe suffering' infographic.

We've continued to support animal ethics committees

We've continued to support members of local animal welfare and ethics committees - such as Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies (AWERBs) - to help them carry out all of their roles and functions effectively. Every establishment in the UK which breeds, supplies or uses lab animals must have an AWERB, and these play a vital role in challenging whether and how animals are used.

In recent months, we've run online workshops aimed at supporting 'lay' members of these bodies, who crucially provide an independent perspective and can act as an important voice for animals. We also organised an 'AWERB-UK' event, open to all roles of AWERB members (such as vets, animal technologists and scientists). The event provided a forum for discussion on how AWERBs have coped as they continue to operate online during the pandemic and offered a vital opportunity to share ideas and good practices.

Read more: Are animal experiments necessary and justified?

We've helped to raise awareness and reduce suffering

We've also been hosting virtual events and producing resources aimed at helping those using and caring for animals in research to think about and refine the whole life experience of animals in order to reduce suffering and improve welfare. Our annual Rodent Welfare Meeting - which we hold with our friends at the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) - had to be held online for the first time, but was attended by a record 400 participants.

A second, brand new event for us, Focus on Fish, was attended by almost 650 participants from around 50 countries! These meetings bring together scientists, animal technologists, vets and regulators to share the latest knowledge that can help to improve animal welfare. We always get great feedback after events like these, with participants telling us what practical changes they plan to make as a result of what they've heard and learned. We've also produced a series of new posters and articles encouraging people to review and improve how they house and care for fishes in their facilities.

Read more: Fishes have feelings too: diving into fish myths and setting the record straight.

We've had positive impacts internationally

Improving standards for laboratory animals internationally is also a really important area of activity for us - and one where our voice carries a lot of influence. As well as working alongside our friends at Eurogroup for Animals on improving animal welfare across Europe, we have also worked with partners in South Korea on the development of new official Government guidelines relating to the use of animals in research. We've also provided important input into new guidance on the housing and care of fishes from an organisation that sets standards for scientists to follow in Canada.

Our expertise is highly respected and valued by other organisations around the world, and our work is helping to make a real difference to animals in laboratories globally. For this, we're extremely proud and extremely grateful - both in terms of our hard-working team as well as our vital supporters.

Find out how you can help animals in science

By spreading our message, you help us be the voice for animals.

Find out more about our work to help laboratory animals.

More from the blog

Women in science: Meet the RSPCA team.

Fishes have feelings too: diving into fish myths and setting the record straight.

Wild animals used in vaccine tests: What's being done to help.

Could the coronavirus vaccine help to end both human and animal suffering?

Share this...