Legal obligations when using animals for scientific purposes

Animal use for scientific purposes is governed by the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (scientific use code). In Queensland, compliance with the scientific use code is mandatory under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (ACPA). This legislation safeguards the welfare of all animals, including those from pounds or shelters, protected wildlife and pest animals.

Unlawful use of animals for scientific purposes

Some uses of animals for scientific purposes are unlawful in Queensland and must not be done without approval from the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF).

These activities have such a high welfare impact or low potential benefit that they're considered unethical, as alternatives can be used.

Unlawful activities under the ACPA include:

  • skin and eye irritancy tests (e.g. Draize eye test)
  • classical LD50 (50% lethal dose) or similar tests
  • testing sunscreen products, or ingredients of sunscreen products, using animals.

Other unlawful activities:

  • From 1 July 2020, the Industrial Chemicals Act 2019 (Cth) banned new animal test data from being used to support introducing chemicals exclusively for use in cosmetic products.
  • On 1 June 2021, the updated scientific use code was published, banning testing on animals of finished cosmetic products and chemical ingredients to be used in cosmetics.

If an animal ethics committee (AEC) receives an application for an unlawful activity, it should:

  • encourage the investigator to consider all potential alternatives
  • require the investigator to provide compelling evidence that an extensive consideration of all potential alternatives has been done and provide compelling arguments for why each alternative is unsuitable
  • require the investigator to provide a thorough justification why the activity must be conducted.

When an AEC receives an application to conduct an unlawful activity, it should:

  • review and make a decision on the application, with particular emphasis on the justification for the project and consideration of all potential alternatives
  • if approved by the AEC, ensure the investigator understands they cannot begin the activity unless the Director-General of DAF also approves the activity
  • contact Biosecurity Queensland on 13 25 23 to discuss making an application to the Director-General of DAF for their approval. The application must include:
    • a completed application using the approved form with the relevant prescribed fee
    • copies of the AEC application and the AEC approval
    • evidence demonstrating how the activity will be monitored to ensure it will comply with the requirements of the AEC and scientific use code.

To date, no approval to conduct unlawful animal use has been given in Queensland.

Legal requirements for death as an endpoint

'Death as an endpoint' is defined as when the death of an animal is the deliberate measure used for evaluating biological or chemical processes, responses or effects. In cases of death as an endpoint, the investigator will not intervene to kill the animal humanely before death occurs in the course of the scientific activity. Procedures using death as the endpoint are severe and raise ethical concerns.

Death as an endpoint does not include:

  • the death of an animal by natural causes or accidents
  • the humane killing of an animal as planned in a project
  • humane euthanasia performed due to the condition of the animal.

You can only conduct procedures that include death as an endpoint in Queensland if approved by an AEC and if the procedures comply with the requirements of the scientific use code, which include:

  • avoiding death as an endpoint unless it is essential for the aim(s) of the project. If it is essential, then the means to prevent or minimise harm, including pain and distress, must be considered, implemented and reviewed at all stages of the project (clause 1.13)
  • particular justification for activities such as death as an endpoint, that involve severe compromise to animal wellbeing, and for which Replacement, Reduction and Refinement (the 3Rs) cannot fully be applied for the project to proceed (clause 2.7.4 (v) (a))
  • replacing death as an endpoint with early experimental and humane endpoints whenever possible. Where death as an endpoint is essential for the aims of the project and can't be avoided:
    • you must design the project to minimise the number of animals that will die
    • take steps to avoid or minimise pain and distress, including early experimental and humane endpoints. These must be considered, implemented and reviewed at all stages of the project (clause 3.1.28).

The requirements for death as an endpoint activities can be different in other state jurisdictions. We strongly advise registrants and investigators working interstate to seek the advice of the relevant regulatory authority.

Accidental deaths and death as an endpoint

The accidental or unintentional death of an animal is not the same as death as an endpoint. Sometimes it's expected that animals will die as part of the normal population cycle or as a potential but unintended outcome of the activity.

A clear description of any reasonably anticipated accidental or unintentional deaths must be included in the AEC application.

Pest species and death as an endpoint

The governing principles in the scientific use code apply equally to all animal species including those considered to be pests. Being a feral or pest animal doesn't change the animal's ability to experience pain or suffering, so it is not more humane to conduct death as an endpoint activities on a fox rather than dog or a toad rather than a native frog.

LD50 and similar tests

The LD50 (50% lethal dose) test involves administering or feeding material or a substance to an animal for the purpose of determining if the concentration will lead to the death of 50% of the animals.

The LD50 test relates to solids and liquids, while the LC50 (50% lethal concentration) test applies to vapours, mists and gases. Similar tests identify the amount of a toxin that achieves a predetermined percentage of deaths in a group of animals (e.g. LD25, LD60).

These tests are no longer the standard for determining the toxicity of substances used by humans. More humane alternatives which don't use animals, such as in vitro tests, are available.

Use of animals from pounds and shelters

The legal requirements for the use of pound or shelter animals for scientific purposes in Queensland are the same as for all other animals from all other sources, i.e. you need to be registered with Biosecurity Queensland and have AEC approval.

Use of animals in schools

Like all other organisations that use animals for scientific purposes, schools must:

  • be registered
  • have AEC approval to use animals
  • comply with the scientific use code
  • report all animal use.

For details on how these requirements specifically apply to schools, see sections 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the scientific use code.

In Queensland, the Queensland Schools Animal Ethics Committee (QSAEC) considers, decides on, monitors and reports on all use of animals in public, faith-based and private schools.

To confirm the status of registration and AEC approval at a Queensland school or to apply for QSAEC approval, contact the QSAEC.