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

13 May 2015

From antibiotics and insulin to blood transfusions and treatments for cancer or HIV, virtually every medical achievement in the past century has depended directly or indirectly on research using animals, including veterinary medicine.

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 table.

The proportion of grants awarded each year by the Society that involve the use of animals has grown from 1.30% to 9.78% over the past five years (see table). This is largely due to the launch of the Sir Henry Dale Fellowship in 2012 which is focused on biomedical research and is more likely to involve the use of animals.

Publishing research findings

Papers published in the Society’s journals which incorporate work with animals must meet set conditions and will be accepted only if the procedures used are clearly described 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.

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.

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.

Royal Society publications on animal research

The use of non-human animals in research: a guide for scientists (February 2004, ISBN 0 85403 598 2)

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

The use of Animals in Research (June 2001)

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

For further information please contact publicaffairs@royalsociety.org