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Alternatives to Laboratory Animals - ATLA

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The Interpretation and Application of the Three Rs by Animal Ethics Committee Members

Catherine A. Schuppli and David Fraser

The Three Rs form the basis of review of animal-use protocols by Animal Ethics Committees (AECs), but little research has examined how AECs actually interpret and implement the Three Rs. This topic was explored through in-depth, open-ended interviews with 28 members of AECs at four Canadian universities. In describing protocol review, AEC members rarely mentioned the Three Rs, but most reported applying some aspects of the basic concepts. Comments identified several factors that could impede full application of the Three Rs: incomplete understanding of the Three Rs (especially Refinement), trust that researchers implement Replacement and Reduction themselves, belief by some members that granting agency review covers the Three Rs, focus on sample size rather than experimental design to achieve Reduction, focus on harm caused by procedures to the exclusion of housing and husbandry, and lack of consensus on key issues, notably on the nature and moral significance of animal pain and suffering, and on whether AECs should minimise overall harm to animals. The study suggests ways to achieve more consistent application of the Three Rs, by providing AECs with up-to-date information on the Three Rs and with access to statistical expertise, by consensus-building on divisive issues, and by training on the scope and implementation of the Three Rs.