Conflict of interest with membership of animal ethics committees
Animal Research Review Panel Policy 16
Revised: March 2020
1. The Australian Code
1.1 The Australian Code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes provides guidance on conflicts of interest associated with Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) membership:
Conflict of interest: a situation in which a person’s individual interests or responsibilities have the potential to influence the carrying out of his or her institutional role or professional obligations, or where an institution’s interests or responsibilities have the potential to influence the carrying out of its obligations.
2.2.3 Institutions should consider appointing a chairperson who is independent of the care and use of animals for scientific purposes.
2.2.13 The chairperson is responsible for impartially guiding the operation of the AEC, resolving conflicts of interest related to the business of the AEC, and representing the AEC in any negotiations with the institution’s management.
2.2.16 During their appointment to the AEC, and before any deliberations of the AEC, members must declare any interest that could influence the objectivity of their decision making.
2.2.21 Procedures for declaration of interests and management of perceived or actual conflicts of interest involving AEC members, and experts whose advice is sought by the AEC, must require people with a conflict of interest to remove themselves from the AEC’s decision making on matters that relate to the conflict of interest.
2.2.26 Documented meeting procedures should include:
(iii) management of any perceived or actual conflicts of interest that may arise (see Clause 2.2.21)
2.3.12 For decision making, members with a conflict of interest must withdraw from the meeting. Once such members have withdrawn, the remaining members must constitute a quorum as defined in Clause 2.2.25—that is, one member from each of the membership categories A, B, C and D, with Categories C and D together representing at least one-third of members present.
2. AEC Chairperson
2.1 The AEC Chairperson should not normally be a participant named on projects submitted for the consideration of the AEC.
2.2 Where there is an occasional project submitted which names the Chairperson as a participant, the Chairperson should nominate a member of the AEC to chair the discussions on the project and withdraw from the meeting while the AEC reaches its decision on the project (Clause 2.2.21 of the Australian Code).
2.3 If a person is likely to be named as a participant more than occasionally on projects, then they should not be appointed as an AEC Chairperson. For small establishments this may mean appointing a Chairperson who is external to the establishment.
3. Participants on projects
3.1 A member of the AEC who is named as a participant on a research project must withdraw from the AEC meeting while the project is being considered, to enable the AEC to make an independent decision on the project (Clauses 2.2.21 and 2.3.12 of the Australian Code).
3.2 Withdrawal of members from a meeting while the AEC makes a decision must be recorded in the minutes of the AEC meeting when it occurs.
3.3 A member of the AEC who is named as a participant on a research project must not take part in any monitoring activity on the project that is carried out by, or on behalf of, the AEC (apart from providing access and information required to enable the AEC to carry out its monitoring functions).
4. Animal carers
4.1 A member of the AEC who is involved in animal care or management at the establishment must withdraw from the meeting while the AEC makes decisions that relate to any aspects of that involvement.
5. Animal welfare officer
5.1 Clause 2.1.5 (vii) of the Australian Code requires:
Institutions must promote compliance with the Code by:
Considering the appointment of an officer with veterinary or other appropriate qualifications, who is authorised by the institution to ensure that activities proceed in compliance with the Code and the decisions of the AEC.
5.2 A person appointed in this capacity, as an animal welfare officer, should not also be appointed as a member of the AEC, because of the potential for conflicts of interest.
5.3 There is potential for conflicts of interest with animal welfare officers providing advice to researcher/ teachers on their projects and then, as a member of the AEC, making decisions on these projects.
5.4 There is potential for conflicts of interest with animal welfare officers monitoring animal care and management and reporting on this to the AEC, and then, as a member of the AEC, assessing and making decisions on these reports.
5.5 Clause 2.2.7 of the Australian Code states:
The AEC may invite people with specific expertise to provide advice, as required.
Animal Welfare Officers should attend AEC meetings to provide advice to the AEC.
6. Maintenance of a quorum
6.1 Where members of the AEC are required to withdraw from parts of the meeting due to conflicts of interest, a quorum must be maintained even when those members have withdrawn (Clauses 2.2.25 and 2.3.12 of the Australian Code).
6.2 To ensure a quorum can be maintained where members need to withdraw due to conflicts of interest, it may be necessary to appoint additional members to the AEC. For some establishments this may mean appointing members external to the establishment. Where additional members are appointed to the AEC, the balance of membership of the AEC must be maintained as required by Clause 2.2.25 of the Australian Code.
7.1 See also Animal Research Review Panel Guideline 25: Common issues encountered during inspections of animal research establishments (PDF, 149.71 KB) – item 3 Conflict of interest.