Different systems of ethical review
Most countries with a well developed regulatory system for animal research and testing encompass ethical review within their system of control. This is recommended in guidelines from global organisations such as the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the International Council on Laboratory Animal Science (ICLAS).
Regulations - and hence ethical review - may be administered by a central government department (e.g. the Home Office in the UK) or overseen by specialist committees at a national, regional or institutional level. The names given to such committees vary in different countries, but their functions and membership are broadly similar. They deal with practical issues such as animal housing, husbandry and care; application of the 3Rs; staff training; and in some cases also deal with formal harm-benefit analysis and authorisation of research projects, together with retrospective review. Most publish documents setting out their terms of reference with guidance or standard protocols on operational issues.
Some examples of systems of ethical review systems around the world, include:
- Regional Ethics Committees - Sweden
- Animal Ethics Committees - Australia, New Zealand
- Institutional Animal Care (or Animal Care and Use) Committees - Canada, USA
Within the European Union some member states have local or regional ethics committees that carry out some or all of the aspects of ethical review - see FELASA’s report Principles and practice in ethical review 2005 (PDF 511KB) for a summary.
In addition, from 2013, member states have to ensure that each establishment breeding, supplying or using animals for research has an Animal Welfare Body (AWB). AWBs have “to follow the development and outcome” projects and deal with practical 3Rs and welfare issues, but they are not responsible for formal evaluation and authorisation of projects - this remains the responsibility of the competent authority in each country.
Ethics committees have a wider remit than AWBs and it remains to be seen how the two types of body will work together. Some countries have already stated that the required functions of the AWBs will be incorporated into the work of existing institutional ethics committees and this seems a positive approach.