Putting the 3Rs into practice

Ethics and animal care and use committees should play an essential role in promoting a good level of  understanding, development and implementation of the 3Rs, within individual projects and more generally throughout an institution.

Putting the 3Rs into practise

It is not always helpful to talk about 'the 3Rs' as a single concept within AWERB plans and discussions.  Each 'R' is achieved using different approaches, and may encounter different obstacles. For example, replacement can depend on scientific progress and knowledge of valid alternatives; reduction requires good education and consultation with respect to experimental design; and refinement can be affected by both awareness and attitudes. People often talk about 'the 3Rs' when they are only referring to refinement, and it is important to be alert to this.

If you sit on a committee, consider whether it:

  • Provides a focal point for advice on each of the 3Rs - not just refinement
  • Supports 3Rs initiatives, making them integral to the work of the establishment
  • Provides 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
  • Recognises the value of the 3Rs - for both animal welfare and the science

Examples of 3Rs initiatives for ethics committees:

Ensuring that researchers are trained in searching relevant databases for replacementsOverseeing strategies for minimising surplus animals and tissue sharingSetting up or liaising with species, housing or procedure-related refinement groups
Replacing animals as far as possible within staff trainingRequiring evidence of appropriate biostatistical expertise in applicationsReviewing all welfare assessment protocols for commonly used procedures
Periodically reviewing the validity and usefulness of animal modelsRequiring researchers to use the PREPARE and ARRIVE guidelines, and ensuring that they do thisReviewing trends in actual severity, with special focus on severe procedures (if any)


Different institutions and research groups within institutions may prioritise the 3Rs differently, and 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 and are a 'protected' animal under legislation. Refinement is sometimes confused with improving experimental protocols, as opposed to reducing suffering and improving welfare.

A conflict between reduction and refinement can also occur, where 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. The ethics committee can help to ensure that each of the 3Rs is properly prioritised and understood.