Membership of animal ethics committees

An animal ethics committee (AEC) must have a membership that will fulfil its terms of reference, and be composed of members from each of the appropriate categories (category A–D) set out in Section 2 of the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (scientific use code).

AEC structure

Each AEC must have:

  • at least 4 members, one of each of categories A, B, C and D as defined in the scientific use code
  • a chairperson who should hold a senior position in the institution or organisation.

An AEC may also have:

  • additional members (e.g. a person from the institution who cares for the animals, or people with skills and background of value to the AEC)
  • non-member advisers (people with specific expertise who can provide advice as required)
  • logistical and administrative support (executive officer and/or secretary)
  • a member responsible for the daily care of animals, if the institution has one, but this is not mandatory
  • experts (e.g. biometricians or scientists) to assist in assessing activities or projects. These experts can be appointed as members or invited as non-member advisers by the AEC.

It is recommended that each AEC appoint a secretary to take an accurate record of meetings and decisions made.

Chairperson

The chairperson either should hold a senior position in the institution or, if an external appointee, be given a commitment by the institution to provide the necessary support and authority to carry out the role. It is recommended that the chairperson is an additional appointment to category A–D members.

The chairperson should have these attributes:

  • An ability to bring impartiality to the task.
  • The skills to manage the business of the AEC.
  • The ability to communicate, negotiate and to resolve conflict.
  • An understanding of the ethical and animal welfare issues involved in the use of animals for scientific purposes.

Large AECs

Larger AECs must ensure that the category C and D members represent at least a third of the appointed membership.

Large AECs may have:

  • an administrative secretary (e.g. for filing and photocopying)
  • and
  • a technical secretary or executive officer (e.g. to advise investigators or teachers on completing proposals, take minutes at meetings).

Recruiting members

Institutions can recruit anyone that meets the relevant membership criteria to be an AEC member. The most common recruitment strategies are word-of-mouth and advertisements in the local press or community newsletters.

New category A and B members are often staff or students of the institution. A and B members with specialist expertise (e.g. in wildlife or aquaculture) may need to be recruited from other organisations.

Category C members are often recruited through contact with animal welfare or animal care organisations such as RSPCA, Animals Australia and wildlife care groups. In smaller centres or remote regions it can be difficult to find suitable C members, so people who aren't active members of an animal welfare organisation can be recruited provided they have an established experience and demonstrated commitment to animal welfare.

Assessing members

Biosecurity Queensland has developed guidelines for assessing nominated persons against the scientific use code membership criteria for AECs.

Category A

A person meets category A criteria if they have a degree registerable in Australia as a veterinary surgeon, whether or not that person is currently registered.

A member will meet the criteria for category A if they are:

  • currently registered with any Australian Veterinary Surgeons Board or equivalent
  • confirmed to have been awarded a veterinary qualification from a recognised institution that would meet the requirements of any Australian Veterinary Surgeons Board or equivalent (e.g. BVSc, MRCVS, DVM from recognised institutions).

Category B

A person meets the requirement of having 'recent experience in the use of animals in scientific or teaching activities' if that experience is either:

  • new members – current experience or within the past 5 years
  • existing members – current or within the last 10 years, where persons who have not been personally involved the use of animals for less than 5 years can demonstrate that they have maintained an active interest in, and knowledge of, current scientific or teaching activities other than as an AEC member.

Category C

A person meets the criteria for 'demonstrable commitment to, and established experience in, furthering the welfare of animals' if they can show they are a:

  • registered wildlife carer – preferably by demonstrating membership of a recognised wildlife carer organization (e.g. WIRES)
  • RSPCA inspector
  • member of, or advocate for, a recognised animal welfare/advocate group (e.g. RSPCA, Animals Australia, Voiceless).

A category C member might be involved in the following activities, but these activities alone do not meet the 'welfare criteria' for category C:

  • history of meeting animal welfare requirements for animals for which the person had an industry, professional or commercial responsibility (e.g. farmer, zookeeper)
  • pet or other animal ownership
  • participation on other animal welfare or ethics committees (e.g. Animal Welfare Committee, other AEC (i.e. having been a B member of one AEC doesn't meet the criterion for being a C member on another AEC)).

Category D

A person meets category D criteria if they specifically state that they don't meet the requirements for either category A, B or C.

An absence or omission of information suggesting the member does/could meet the criterion (absence of evidence) is not sufficient - a definitive statement (evidence of absence) is required.

Remunerating members

AEC members can receive an allowance from the institution, or act in an honorary capacity. It's recommended that non-institutional members are paid for out-of-pocket expenses.

Receiving an allowance or out-of-pocket expenses doesn't compromise the independence of the category C and D members if the payments aren't associated with any obligation to the institution.

Personal injury and public liability

Institutions should consider indemnifying AEC members under the institution's injury policy.

Members should discuss liability and indemnity with the AEC chairperson.

Term of appointment

The institution will determine an AEC member's term of appointment as part of the institution's procedures for appointment, reappointment and retirement of AEC members.