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Why focus on severe suffering?: AWERB members

Close up of a piglet © APHA

The principle of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) underpins many laws and guidelines on the humane use of animals in science. Refining scientific procedures, housing, husbandry and care can achieve immediate improvements in animal welfare and reductions in suffering. All levels of suffering are of concern, but acting on severe suffering is a top priority for many researchers and bodies that promote laboratory animal welfare. Several of the AWERB’s tasks relate directly to tackling severe suffering.


What is the definition of ‘severe’?

Within the European Union, a prospective severity classification (PDF 192KB) is assigned within the project evaluation (PDF 1.33MB) process. Procedures may be mild, moderate, severe or non-recovery (i.e. terminal and under general anaesthesia throughout). ‘Severe’ procedures are those ‘as a result of which the animals are likely to experience severe pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting moderate pain, suffering or distress. Procedures that are likely to cause severe impairment of the wellbeing or general condition of the animals’. There are similar classifications in the US (‘E’) and Canada (‘D’ or ‘E’).


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


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.

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