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Why focus on severe suffering: Animal technologists and vets

There are legal, ethical and scientific reasons to minimise suffering within animal research and testing. All levels of suffering are of concern, but acting on severe suffering is a top priority for many involved in animal research and for bodies that promote laboratory animal welfare. Animal technologists and veterinarians are heavily involved in assessing animal welfare on a day to day basis and are integral to the successful implementation of strategies to reduce suffering. Appropriate welfare assessment protocols, and recording systems, allow for early identification and alleviation of suffering and robust application of humane endpoints.

Close up of ferret being held © APHA

For this approach to work, it is essential that there is a demonstrable ‘culture of care’ within the establishment, including a shared responsibility and accountability for animal welfare, robust support for named persons, and a positive collaborative relationship between animal technologists, veterinarians and researchers.

In the UK, named persons and other staff should be supported by the AWERB on welfare and ethical issues, which should help individuals to contribute towards and maintain a good culture of care. For a report of a workshop held at IAT Congress on the roles that animal technologists can play in reducing severe suffering, including interacting with the AWERB, Discussion paper: reducing severe suffering (PDF 148KB).

What makes a procedure ‘severe’?

This resource focuses on three causes of severe suffering:

  • some procedures or ‘models’ are more likely to be severe
  • a combination of milder factors can increase the level of suffering to severe – often called ‘cumulative severity
  • mortality may involve severe suffering, including both unexpected mortality and ‘death as an endpoint’ if this is required by a regulatory body or journal editor

Each of these factors can often be overcome with creative thinking, good communication and appropriate investment of time and resources. The RSPCA has developed a ‘Road Map’ towards ending severe suffering and more information can be found there.

You can also see some examples of procedures that have the potential to cause severe suffering.

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