Three Rs and Ethics

R.L. Burch and W.M.S. Russell
R.L. Burch and W.M.S. Russell

Animal welfare (and in particular, the pain and distress experienced by some animals involved in scientific activities) has concerned the general public and researchers for decades. The CCAC, along with the research community and the majority of Canadians, recognizes the value of animal-based research while acknowledging the necessity of providing humane treatment for these animals. The Three Rs - replacement, reduction, and refinement – are a harm mitigation strategy and form the cornerstone of the CCAC programs.

Over the past 50 years, the Three Rs have become widely accepted ethical decision-making principles, and are now embedded in the conduct of animal-based science in Canada and internationally. First proposed in W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch’s 1959 book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, the Three Rs provide a framework for examining how decisions should be made about animals in science, especially in the face of increasing use of animals in fundamental and applied research.

The CCAC requires researchers to implement the Three Rs when preparing animal-based research proposals or projects. They must consider whether animals are absolutely required or whether suitable replacements can be used instead. If animals are necessary, researchers must consider what numbers of animals will ensure valid results while, at the same time, maximizing the amount of information obtained per animal. Researchers must also identify any potential harm to the animals and develop ways to minimize it. The Three Rs are an integral part in the development of any research study.

CCAC guidelines, which are based on expert peer advice and current interpretation of scientific evidence, also provide direction for the implementation of the Three Rs principles. Through the assessment process, the CCAC verifies how institutions apply these guidelines, which can lead to the development of new Three Rs strategies, resulting in continuous improvements to animal welfare and the quality of animal-based research.