What is ethical review?

Ethical review is an essential part of any system regulating animal use in research and testing. It provides a framework for deciding whether animal use can be justified within each scientific project, taking into account animal welfare, scientific and ethical issues. These pages set out information on ethical review in research and testing, link to helpful resources, and suggest topics for ethics committee members to reflect on.

A harm-benefit analysis is usually the basis for ethical review and it is essential that a diverse range of perspectives is involved in carrying this out.

Ethical review is not just a single 'event' when projects are evaluated - it should be a dynamic process. Ethical, scientific and animal welfare aspects should be considered throughout the lifetime of a project, from design through to completion and publication. 

Ethical review wording

The initial responsibility for identifying the scientific, animal welfare and ethical issues within a project lies with the researcher(s) and their support team.

Different individuals and bodies are then responsible for ethical review at subsequent stages. All add value, as they examine different aspects, or have different priorities and perspectives. They include:

  • government regulators that authorise projects (e.g. the Home Office in the UK)
  • animal care and use or ethics committees which authorise projects at a national, regional or institutional level (as in Sweden and the USA)
  • separate national committees with overarching advisory or oversight roles (for example, the Animals in Science Committee in the UK)
  • institutional bodies that review research projects and processes from a local perspective, ensuring they comply with in-house policies and ethical and welfare standards (as in Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies, or AWERBs, in the UK)
  • national and international bodies regulating the marketing of products such as medicines, vaccines and chemicals, which should consider the legal, ethical and welfare implications of any animal tests they require (for example, the European Medicines Agency or the US Food and Drug Administration).
  • research funders, which have a responsibility to consider the ethics, as well as the science, of the projects they fund 
  • journals publishing work using animals, which have a responsibility to set ethical standards for the research they publish
     

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