Animals in Research Position Statement
Sentient promotes ethical reflection by all researchers regarding the use of animals in their work. Sentient subscribes to the ‘Three R’ principles of humane research, which are replacement of animals with alternatives where possible, reduction in the number of animals used in research and refinement of techniques to minimise pain and distress. Furthermore, we believe these should be adopted hierarchically, with replacement as the first goal. The onus must be on researchers to provide proof, via an extensive and referenced literature search, that animals cannot be replaced as research ‘subjects’ due to the lack of viable alternatives. The research community must demonstrate that non-animal alternatives are actively pursued, including through the allocation of funding. Researchers must also provide evidence that if animals are used, they will not be subjected to pain or distress. No research should be conducted before such justification is provided. These stipulations should apply equally to pilot studies.
Measures should be taken towards the publication by peer-reviewed journals of research studies with non-significant findings. This will reduce the unnecessary repetition of experiments and thereby animal use and wasted funding.'
Sentient also promotes an ongoing commitment to the highest standard of care for animals used in research. Our philosophy is that animals should be treated with respect, befitting their status as sentient beings, rather than as mere tools for data collection. We oppose any research involving animals that causes pain, suffering, distress, lasting physiological harm or behavioural disturbance, or death as an endpoint. This means a priori rejection of some research proposals, including the use of animals to test non-essential products (such as cosmetics, household products, alcohol or tobacco), procedures causing neurological damage, in vivo exposure of prey animals to predators, or the use of great apes in research other than non-invasive observational studies of free-living or sanctuary populations.
Ethical use of research animals mandates that researchers acknowledge and protect the ‘Five Freedoms’, namely: 1) freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition, 2) freedom from discomfort, 3) freedom from pain, injury and disease, 4) freedom from fear and distress and 5) freedom to express normal behaviour. Several responsibilities arise from this. Of utmost importance is the use of analgesia and/or anaesthesia to prevent pain and suffering. Others are the use of non-invasive identification procedures, best practice standards of animal handling and husbandry, appropriate environmental stimulation and social contact, and the opportunity to perform species-specific natural behaviours.
Sentient acknowledges that all research using animals is to be conducted in accordance with the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes as a minimal legal requirement and encourages higher standards where possible.
Sentient believes that only qualified, Australian-registered veterinarians should perform anaesthesia, surgery, or other invasive procedures on an animal, and that they must be qualified and adept at performing these procedures on the animal species in question.
Additionally, personnel working with animals used in research must have ready access to a conscientious objection policy and to complaints procedures that may be invoked when they have doubts or concerns about the care and use of animals.
Assessments of the wellbeing of animals used in research must include the cumulative impact of their experiences. Animals should be used in research projects for a limited period, and investigators must ensure that after their use, such animals are not subjected to further research and are provided with appropriate housing, husbandry and rehoming avenues. Whilst we acknowledge that appropriate re-use of animals may reduce the total number of animals used, it also results in cumulative welfare impacts on individual animals and limits their lifetime opportunity to experience the five freedoms. For this reason, repeated use must be avoided where possible.
Research proposals must be submitted to animal ethics committees. Animal ethics committees should operate in such a way that the contributions of welfare and community members are given equal consideration to other members. We also maintain that all research involving the use of animals be subjected to annual scrutiny through an independent external auditing system, such as occurs under Australian licensing requirements, as this provides the highest level of transparency and increases accountability.