Animal Care and Ethics Committees (ACECs) (Factsheet 3)
Animal ethics committees (AECs) control animal research. Their role is to advise, monitor, discipline and control animal research and approve animal supply for research. They must also ensure that all research conducted in their institution or by the independent researchers they supervise, complies with the legislation and Code of Practice.
At the institutional level, AECs provide an avenue for public participation in the regulation of animal research. AECs are responsible for monitoring research and, where applicable, animal supply within the institution. This includes inspections of animals and facilities.
Committees must consider and evaluate requests to conduct research on the basis ofresearchers’ responses to a comprehensive set of questions including thejustification for the research; its likely impact on the animals; and procedures forpreventing or alleviating pain and distress. On behalf of the institution, AECs have thepower to stop inappropriate research and to discipline researchers by withdrawing theirresearch approvals. They can also require that adequate care, including emergency care, isprovided. They provide guidance and support to researchers on matters relevant to animalwelfare through the preparation of guidelines and dissemination of relevant scientificliterature. They are also responsible for advising the institution on changes tofacilities to meet required standards.
There are three types of AEC:
- Research Establishment AEC
Appointed by the establishment to oversee all animal research in that organisation.
- The Director-General's AEC
Appointed by the Director-General of NSW Agriculture to oversee research by independent animal researchers who are not affiliated with an accredited research establishment AEC.
- The Schools AEC
Appointed to oversee the use of animals in most schools.
The membership and duties of AECs are laid down by the Animal Research Regulation 1995. The AEC membership must comply with the Australian Code of Practice; which also provides the benchmark against which the committees judge research proposals.
The categories are:
- A veterinarian or person with similar expertise relevant to the species being studied.
- An animal researcher.
- An animal welfare representative who is not involved with the establishment or with animal research or supply.
- An independent person who is not and has not been a researcher and preferably is not employed by the establishment.
More than one person may be appointed to each category. For AEC’s with more than four members, one-third of the members must be from categories C and D.
The Chairman should ideally hold a senior position in the organisation. This is to ensure that recommendations of the AEC are implemented quickly and effectively. The Panel should be informed of any change of membership.
The composition of AECs for schools differs form the above and is stipulated in the Regulations.
Criteria used by the Panel for assessment of AEC membership has been clarified in a Panel policy document (Policy Statement 9). In examining an application for accreditation as an animal research establishment, the membership of the AEC is assessed to ensure it is of acceptable composition and size. During site inspections, the Panel assesses the operation of the AEC.
Procedures of AECs
AECs conduct meetings to consider issues associated with animal research or teaching.
Their role includes to:
- review, discuss, approve, reject or revoke approval for proposals to perform animal research or teaching;
- document their consideration of proposals;
- have guidelines on procedures for animal research or teaching;
- inspect animals and facilities used in research or teaching.
AECs may form sub-committees to manage business between meetings but, may only make decisions on research protocols at full meetings. The quorum for an AEC meeting must include a representative from each category of membership (A, B, C and D). Decisions must be reached by consensus. The minutes of an AEC meeting must record the reasons for any decision made concerning research proposals. Minor changes to protocols can be approved by an Executive of the AEC (which must include at least one external member from Categories Cor D). These decisions, however, must be reviewed by the Committee at the next meeting.
Research establishments must provide AECs with sufficient resources and the necessary authority to permit them to perform their duties effectively. Large establishments may appoint several AECs to adequately cope with their business and may also nominate an animal welfare officer.
AECs can also advise that the institution discipline an investigator who does not comply with the Code of Practice or other legislation and can also refuse them approval to conduct research. They may also be empowered to withdraw all approvals to conduct research for a stipulated period.
AECs have responsibility for the operation of animal houses and supply units which are under their control. They can inspect any place where animals are used in the research establishment and require that adequate care, including provision for emergencies, is provided.
The minutes of AEC meetings must be kept for a minimum of seven years
Investigators are ultimately responsible for the care, management and well-being of their research animals.
People working within an accredited research establishment in any role, including as:
- an employee
- a consultant
- a post-graduate student
- an animal attendant;
who wish to use animals in research must hold an animal research authority issued by their establishment for each research project they undertake. This function is usually delegated to the AEC and, in practice, authorities are the same as AEC approval for a particular protocol.
Independent investigators who are not associated with an accredited research establishment must also apply for an animal research authority for each research project they undertake. (See Fact Sheet 5).
Documentation of research
All proposals to undertake animal research must be submitted in writing to an AEC and approved before the research is undertaken. The Code of Practice (see Fact Sheet 8) lists the information which must be supplied by investigators in each proposal.
Full information should be provided on:
- justification for the use of animals
- justification for the number of animals and species used
- procedures to be used
- the expected impact on the welfare of the animals and the methods which will be used to avoid and alleviate adverse impact.
Investigators must keep detailed records on the health and experimental use of animals in their charge. The records may be examined at any time by the AEC or by inspectors from NSW Agriculture's Animal Welfare Unit.
All accredited research establishments must collect information on animal use and submit to the Animal Welfare Unit a completed Annual Return on Animal Use form annually before 30 September of the same year. The animal use form requires information on species of animals used, types of studies, whether the studies will benefit humans or animals (or both) and whether the study is new or continuing. This information is analysed and published in the Animal Research Review Panel Annual Report.
AECs must also provide to the head of their institution an annual summary of their activities including the number of meetings held and the proposals assessed, approved, rejected or terminated.