Putting the 3Rs into practice

The principle of the 3Rs is fundamental to humane, good quality science. It is a basic requirement of many laws regulating animal use, including European Union Directive 2010/63/EU and the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. The 3Rs is also cited as a `key concept¿ in the US National Research Council Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.

Ethics and animal care and use committees can play a principal role in promoting proper understanding, uptake and development of the 3Rs. This can be approached through prospective, ongoing and retrospective review of individual projects, and also more generally within an establishment - as explained in the RSPCA/LASA resource Guiding principles on good practice for Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Bodies (2015) (PDF 1.76MB) and a resource book for lay members of ethical review and similar bodies worldwide - third edition (2015) (PDF 6,742KB).

A good committee will:

  • Provide a focal point for advice on the 3Rs
  • Support 3Rs initiatives, making them integral to the work of the establishment
  • Provide a mechanism to encourage and facilitate wide staff involvement in the 3Rs, acting as a driver and motivator so that people: 
    - think about and implement existing 3Rs opportunities;
    - develop new 3Rs initiatives and activities; and
    - disseminate 3Rs information as widely as possible.
  • Show recognition of the value of the 3Rs - for both animal welfare and the science

Some issues to consider 

Individual research establishments, and research groups within institutions, may afford very different levels of priority to the 3Rs. In particular, the extent to which 3Rs advances are investigated, incorporated and disseminated can vary widely. There may also be misconceptions about what each `R¿ really stands for. For example, fish are sometimes incorrectly viewed as a replacement, despite the fact that they are capable of feeling pain (Braithwaite 2010) and a `protected¿ animal under legislation.

A conflict between reduction and refinement may also occur, in which a decision has to be made between using more animals, with less suffering, or fewer animals but with more suffering to each individual. This requires careful consideration and it may be decided that the `right thing¿ to do is prioritise refinement over reduction.


A good ethical or animal care and use committee will want to reassure itself that all opportunities for implementing the 3Rs are explored within projects and the establishment. For example it can:

  • Set up a 3Rs group to identify 3Rs issues in projects and/or across the establishment
  • Organise species, housing or procedure related refinement groups e.g. to review all procedures on dogs and see how these could be refined
  • Initiate internal reviews of procedures starting with those that cause severe suffering
  • Develop welfare assessment protocols and score sheets for commonly used procedures
  • Periodically review validity and usefulness of models, especially those that are severe
  • Review whether there is any wastage of animals
  • Ensure the 3Rs are given priority in external collaborations