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Better welfare assessment

Laboratory animal technician observing a rat

Suffering has to be recognised if it is to be effectively acted upon and relieved
. The recognition and assessment of pain, suffering and distress is often referred to as ‘welfare assessment’, because it is important to appreciate when welfare is good as well as to detect suffering. Indicators of positive welfare include animals exercising, playing and using enrichment items, and it is good practice to encourage this as well as to reduce suffering.

Assessing animal welfare requires time, expertise, training, a good system for observing animals and recording observations, and teamwork from a range of people with different priorities and knowledge – such as researchers, animal technologists and veterinarians.

What we are doing

We set up an expert Working Group to produce guidance to help establishments achieve more effective welfare assessment. Since its publication in 2011 we have actively promoted the resource and its approach to the scientific community globally.

The guidance supports the principle of describing welfare concerns in a standard way, using consistent language, to help ensure that suffering is rapidly identified and alleviated. One example is the Mouse Welfare Terms project, which includes a list of agreed terms for laboratory mice.

The RSPCA also represented Eurogroup for Animals on the European Commission (EC) Expert Group addressing welfare (severity) assessment, which completed its 
in July 2012. The EC document promotes many of the principles in our own Working Group’s report on welfare assessment and it will be used by other Member States to produce their own guidance on assessing welfare, both on a daily basis and once procedures have ended; when the actual severity of scientific procedures must be assessed and reported.

We are continuing to work with the EC Expert Group and to promote better practice for welfare assessment in the UK and Europe, including via the implementation of the revised UK legislation.

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