The ‘Road map’ is a series of practical steps that will enable establishments to identify ways to reduce, avoid and ultimately end severe suffering. This approach is linked to AWERB tasks and was developed by the RSPCA following consultation with a number of research establishments. A key principle of the Road map is an ‘audit’ of procedures to establish how well current refinement practices are working and to identify any areas where further refinement can be applied. In order for this to be achieved it is essential that researchers work with their ‘named persons’ and develop a team approach to the alleviation of suffering.
A paper outlining the concept was published in 2014: Road map paper
The key stages to the road map are shown here and are expanded upon below:
A fundamental requirement for ending severe suffering is the collective agreement, within the research establishment, that this is both desirable and possible – and worthy of the necessary time and resources. A progressive, open minded and caring research culture should be willing to embrace these concepts.
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.
The first of the procedural steps is to establish the extent of the issue in-house, beginning with a ‘severity audit’ of all protocols, procedures and models to identify any that have the potential to cause severe suffering. These procedures can then be reviewed, using records of day-to-day observations of the animals, to identify those where the animals experience severe suffering (for example where the actual severity, required for reporting purposes under EU Directive 2010/63, is severe).
Step two is to take the audit information and evaluate the following:
- why each procedure was used and which factors resulted in it being potentially or actually severe;
- whether that level of suffering was really necessary to achieve the scientific objective;
- what proportion of animals suffered severely;
- what refinements were already in place and whether there is potential for further implementation of all Three Rs.
A critical review of the justification for, and necessity of, severe procedures should reveal any scientific obstacles that need to be overcome to end severe suffering, taking an honest and realistic view of the impact (either negative or positive) on the scientific objectives of avoiding or refining the severe procedures.
Any obstacles to ending severe suffering should be clearly set out and the genuine impact evaluated.
Critical evaluation of obstacles identified in the previous step may suggest opportunities to overcome them. It may be that a few changes to current protocols are all that are needed to avoid severe suffering. It some cases, avoiding or ameliorating severe suffering may be more challenging. In all cases, some progress should be possible even if this requires a long-term plan and further research or protocol development.
There should be a coordinated effort from researchers both to develop and validate humane endpoints in order to limit suffering experienced by animals and to develop and adopt alternative, non-severe, approaches.
It may be useful to apply a ‘stretch objective’ to ending severe suffering by imposing a challenging but achievable time point after which no further severe studies would be undertaken. This target may be different depending on the model or procedure being used and the specific obstacles that are identified. However, having a fixed point in time to work towards can be a powerful motivating force for achieving challenging goals.