Statement of the Royal Society’s position on the use of animals in research

The Royal Society believes that all research should be carried out with a high regard for animal welfare. At present the use of animals remains the only way for some areas of research to progress. The Society believes that where this research offers considerable benefits, it should go ahead under rigorous review to ensure it is absolutely necessary and there are no alternatives. At the same time steps must be taken to replace the use of animals, reduce the numbers used and refine procedures so the degree of suffering for animals is kept to the absolute minimum (the 3Rs).

Funding research that uses animals

The Society requires that the research it supports in the UK must comply with UK legislation and endorses the principle of the 3Rs (replace, refine and reduce). Researchers in receipt of Society funding report annually on their work, including their use of animals.

Animal research in the UK is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 which was updated in 2013. Everyone conducting animal research, as well as the facilities and the projects that they work on, must be licensed to do so. As part of the licensing procedures, research on animals is subjected to rigorous independent review in order to ensure that the use of animals is absolutely necessary and there are no alternatives. This review also considers whether any steps can be taken to replace, refine or reduce the number of animals used.

Find out more about UK regulation or licensing procedures on the Home Office website

International research supported by the Society must, as a minimum standard, be carried out in accordance with the principles of UK legislation as well as complying with all local legislation and ethical review procedures. Read the full policy.

The Society has over 20 award schemes for researchers, some of which may involve research with animals. The number of grants awarded each year that involve animals are detailed in this downloadable table (XLS). The proportion of grants awarded each year by the Society that involve the use of animals has grown over the past eleven years and has fluctuated around 10% for the past five years.

How the Royal Society ensures high standards in the research using animals that it funds

Implementation of the principles in the following guidance is a condition of receiving funds from the Royal Society:

These guidelines set out the expectations for the use of animals in research and is therefore also useful to ethics committees, referees and Panel/Committee/Board members involved in reviewing research proposals.

The Royal Society must be satisfied that:

  • The simplest possible, or least sentient, species of animal appropriate is used
  • Distress and pain are avoided wherever possible
  • Appropriate experimental design to ensure the minimum number of animals possible is used, consistent with ensuring that scientific objectives will be met
  • There are no feasible alternatives
  • All reasonable efforts have been made to address the principles (replace, reduce, refine) of the 3Rs
  • All proposals using animals should explain not only why the use of animals is necessary and the ethical implications of the planned experiments, but also clearly describe how the planned experimental design is appropriate to give robust results
  • All animal work will be done in strict compliance with local Animal Welfare Ethical Review Board (AWERB) committee requirements, sector standards and applicable law including, in the UK, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986
  • Welfare standards are consistent with the principles of UK legislation and that the guidance documents set out above are applied and maintained, even where the funded research is to be performed outside the UK
  • The research has been independently peer reviewed, and applications which propose the use of non-human primates (NHPs), cats, dogs or equines, which are specially protected species under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, are subject to additional peer review by the NC3Rs

How the Royal Society implements its policy

The Royal Society is committed to ensuring that our policy on animal research is implemented effectively to help reduce animal use in research, improve welfare standards, and due to the scientific benefits, ensure that appropriate models are used, and that experimental design is scientifically robust and reproducible.

This is achieved through the following mechanisms:

  • Applicants - applicants who submit an application proposing research involving the use of animals must provide detailed information to allow for appropriate review and assessment of the proposed research. Applicants are expected to detail how the number of animals to be used was decided, plans to minimise experimental bias, and provide information on statistical aspects of the study including statistical power and appropriate statistical analysis. Applicants are encouraged to use the NC3Rs Experimental Design Assistant when designing their experiments, and the ARRIVE guidelines for improving the reproducibility and reporting of research involving animals.
  • Peer review - all research involving the use of animals is rigorously assessed by appropriately qualified independent peer reviewers. All Panels and panel members, including independent peer reviewers are instructed to consider whether the principles of the 3Rs have been followed by the applicant in their response. Applications specifying the use of non-human primates (NHPs), cats, dogs or equines are subject to additional peer review by the NC3Rs with applicants expected to provide an adequate response to any concerns raised by the NC3Rs, which is shared with Panels members for consideration prior to making award recommendations. Issues raised by the NC3Rs may be included as a condition of funding.
  • Conditions of award - it is a condition of funding that the Host Organisation and the Award Holder must ensure that research involving the use of animals falls within the regulations laid down in the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and subsequent amendments. Award holders using animals must implement and adhere to the principles detailed in the Responsibility in the Use of Animals in Bioscience Research guidelines, and where an uses non-human primates they must also comply with the NC3Rs guidelines on Primate Accommodation, Care and Use. Any element of research funded by the Award that is conducted outside the UK must, as a minimum standard, be conducted in accordance with the principles of UK legislation.
  • Improving standards - the Royal Society takes an active role in policy discussions on the use of animals in research. The Society is a member of the Society of Biology’s Animals in Science Group. This Group feeds into the UK Bioscience Sector Coalition which engages directly with the Home Office and Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Society endorses the work of the National Centre for the replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research (NC3Rs). NC3Rs supports national and international efforts to improve conditions for laboratory animals and welcomes attempts to maintain and strengthen an ethical approach to the use of animals in research through discussion and debate.
  • Increasing transparency - the Royal Society is a signatory to the Concordat on Openness in Animal Research, and is working to fulfil the commitments of the Concordat as they apply to the Society. More information about the Concordat and the actions taken by other signatories can be found on the Understanding Animal Research website.

Publishing research findings

Papers published in the Society’s journals which involve work with animals must meet set conditions and will be accepted only if the procedures used are clearly described - we encourage all authors to comply with the Animal Research: Reporting in vivo Experiments (ARRIVE) guidelines - and conform to the legal requirements of the country in which the work was carried out and to all institutional guidelines.

In addition, referees are required to express any ethical concerns they may have about the animal experimentation under review. Papers will be accepted for publication only if they are considered to be ethically sound in the judgement of the editor. Read the full policy.

Royal Society publications on animal research

Response to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics consultation on the ethics of research involving animals (PDF) (December 2003)

The use of animals in research (June 2001)

The use of genetically modified animals (May 2001, ISBN 0 85403 556 7)

Read our 2015 statement on animal research, or our 2006 statement.


For further information please contact

Page last updated: 24 May 2023