Alternative to animal use for scientific purposes

There are alternatives to animal use that can replace or reduce the number of animals used to meet scientific or educational objectives.

Under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (ACPA), an animal is any live vertebrate and cephalopods.

This includes:

  • amphibians
  • birds
  • fish
  • mammals (other than humans)
  • reptiles
  • cephalopods (octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus).

Animals also include live pre-natal or pre-hatched creatures in the second half of gestation, including:

  • mammalian or reptilian foetus
  • pre-hatched avian, mammalian or reptilian young (eggs)
  • live marsupial young.

Animals included under the ACPA:

  • livestock
  • companion animals (pets)
  • laboratory animals
  • wildlife
  • pests
  • feral animals
  • zoo animals

Animals not included under the ACPA:

  • invertebrates other than cephalopods
  • humans including human foetus
  • the eggs, spat, or spawn of fish
  • immature amphibians and fish prior to final metamorphosis (e.g. fish fry and tadpoles)

Alternatives used must be consistent with the aims of the activity. There is no point using an alternative technique that is not capable of achieving the desired outcome.

Replacement or reduction of animal use through the use of non-animal alternatives can provide ethical, cost and scientific benefits. Outcomes may be cheaper and more repeatable through replacement of the inherent expense and variability associated with purchasing, keeping and using animals.

Some examples of non-animal alternatives are:

  • use of chemical and physical techniques based on the physical and chemical properties of molecules
  • use of epidemiological data
  • mathematical/computer models
  • use of organisms with no or limited sentience (sense of awareness, perception and feeling), such as invertebrates, bacteria and plants
  • in-vitro techniques such as tissue culture
  • virtual reality and inanimate synthetic models and dummies
  • videos and photographs
  • studies using human volunteers.

One alternative that is often forgotten is the 'literature review' (including systematic reviews). Improved technology for storing and accessing information means that unnecessary repetition of animal-using procedures can be avoided. Scientists and teachers can promote the 3Rs of replacement, reduction and refinement by documenting their animal use work and making it widely and freely available.

The principle of using non-animal alternatives to replace or reduce animal use was promoted by Russell and Burch's publication 'The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique' in 1959. Globally there is an increasing trend to use non-animal alternatives, where possible, for research and teaching. This move has been driven not only by animal rights and animal welfare groups, but also by scientists and teachers themselves. One of the governing principles of the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes requires the application of the 3Rs at all stages of animal care and use (clause 1.1).

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