A cross-departmental Government Delivery Plan aimed at reducing the use of animals in research has reflected some of the key recommendations made in the Nuffield Council’s 2005 report on the ethical issues raised by research involving animals.

The plan, Working to reduce the use of animals in scientific research, was published earlier this month and sets out a list of new and existing initiatives aiming to promote the ‘Three Rs’ (replacement, reduction and refinement) in animal research. This supports the view put forward in the Council’s report that it is crucial that the Three Rs are enshrined in UK regulation on research involving animals.

The Council’s report, which was produced by a working party comprised of academic and industry scientists, members of animal protection groups and philosophers, highlighted the fundamental principle that research on animals should only be carried out when there are no alternative ways of getting the results, and agreed that it would be important to raise the quality of the debate around animal research. The Council is pleased to see that these core concepts are reflected throughout the Delivery Plan, which sets out three main strategic priorities: advancing the use of the Three Rs by putting them at the heart of science-led programmes; influencing the uptake and adoption of the Three Rs approaches globally; and promotion of the understanding and awareness of research where no alternatives exist.


Specifically, a number of recommendations made by the Council correspond with the action points set out in the Delivery Plan, as follows:

Increased transparency about the severity of animal suffering

The Council recommended that retrospective information about the level of suffering involved during procedures should be made publicly available, and that clearer information ought to be provided about how many animals experience pain, suffering and distress, and for how long, through the information provided in Annual Statistics on the use of Animals in Research.

We therefore welcome Government plans to introduce the retrospective reporting of the “Actual Severity” of all scientific procedures on protected animals by 2015. This will enable better understanding of the levels of overall animal suffering in terms of:
  • numbers of animals experiencing each category of severity – sub-threshold, mild, moderate or severe

  • which procedures are most severe and in which species

  • whether 3Rs implementation is having an impact on reducing overall severity

Review of international guidelines

The Council concluded that international guidelines have a crucial role with regard to welfare standards of animals involved in research, and recommended that the OECD should review and revise their guidelines to achieve greater consistency and to contribute to a wider application of the Three Rs. Given the severity that some toxicity testing can entail, it also called for the government and scientific community to engage more in a systematic and visible search for methods involving the Three Rs in toxicology.

We are pleased to note that the Delivery Plan includes provision for a systematic review of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Test Guidelines, in particular the Test Guidelines for acute toxicity testing.

Research on public attitudes

The Council recommended that funding should be provided for research to be undertaken on the knowledge, opinions and views of members of the public on animal research. We therefore welcome the contribution of last year’s Sciencewise supported public dialogue sessions in helping to gauge public expectations of openness, transparency and communication about animal research. This public dialogue will inform the development of a new Concordat on the use of animals in research which is set out in the Plan and due to be published in spring 2014.