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Animal Ethics Infolink
A NSW DPIRD and Animal Research Review Panel initiative

Inspections by animal ethics committees


In the section of the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes which deals with responsibilities and operation of Animal Ethics Committees (AECs), the following clauses relate to inspections by AECs:

Clause 2.2.29:  'Members of the AEC should inspect all animal housing and laboratory areas regularly and record their findings. Records of inspections should include the names of those who attended, observations, any identified problems, follow-up and outcomes. Inspections of fieldwork conducted at extremely remote sites, or where access is difficult, may be performed by an agent or delegate and can be facilitated or corroborated with photographic or video imaging'.

Inspections by Animal Care and Ethics Committees (AECs) form a valuable part of the activities of AECs. The Animal Research Review Panel provides the following policy for the assistance of AECs.


1. Purpose

1.1 Inspections by AECs may be used to:

  • ensure the Code of Practice and AEC directions are being complied with
  • familiarise AEC members with what is happening "in practice" as opposed to "on paper"
  • promote interaction between the AEC members, researchers and animal care staff

2. Attendance

2.1 All AEC members should participate in inspections. It is not necessary for every member to attend every inspection (especially at large institutions) - inspections can be organised on a roster basis to ensure all members participate on a regular basis.

2.2 AEC members external to the institution, and in particular Category C and D members, are encouraged to participate in inspections. The scheduling of inspections should be arranged to facilitate the attendance of these members.

2.3 Where AEC members are unable to attend inspections in person due to factors such as the physical location of the members or the accessibility of a site, strategies to allow remote attendance should be utilised where possible, including e.g., the use of videoconferencing (see also the strategies proposed in sections 7.2.1-7.2.3).

3. Scope

3.1 Inspections should include examination of:

  • animal holding facilities
  • animals (health and welfare)
  • research procedures (on occasion)
  • animal identification and care records
  • research records (on occasion)

3.2 It should be ensured animals are held in current and approved protocols and that the procedures being conducted are in accord with the approved protocol.

3.3 Discussion with animal carers and researchers during inspections is encouraged as a means of obtaining information and providing an opportunity for contact between these people and AEC members.

3.4 Research procedures should be viewed by AEC members on occasion. AEC members are encouraged to view procedures as often as possible as an additional means of assessing the impact of projects on animals. Procedures to be viewed may be chosen on the basis of criteria including:

  • contentious research project or procedure
  • convenience (procedure coinciding with inspection)
  • commonly occurring procedure
  • operator has not been seen performing procedure by the AEC

AEC member(s) have not previously seen procedure performed.

4. Frequency

4.1 Frequency of inspections will be determined by factors including number of sites, accessibility of sites, amount of research overseen by the AEC, type of research conducted, variety of research conducted and whether inspections can be combined with scheduled AEC meetings.

4.2 As a general rule it is expected that inspections of each animal holding area would be conducted at least twice yearly. In contrast, where a contentious project or pilot study is being conducted, inspections (by nominated members of the AEC) may need to be as frequent as daily.

5. Announced/unannounced

5.1 A combination of announced and unannounced inspections should be used. Announced inspections have the advantage of allowing arrangements for relevant personnel to be available to assist the AEC and answer questions, as well as improving interaction between AEC members and researchers and animal care staff. Unannounced inspections have the 'element of surprise', acting as an encouragement to all concerned to maintain standards at all times and helping to ensure the AEC obtains a 'real' picture of the standards of animal care.

6. Records of inspections

6.1 Records of inspections should be kept.

6.2 The type of records will vary with factors such as the complexity of the research being conducted and the frequency with which a facility is inspected. Records may vary from a detailed inventory of animals, procedures and facilities to an entry in the minutes noting that an inspection was conducted and including any significant findings. As a general guide, significant findings (good and bad) and problem areas should be documented. Where problems are encountered, documentation should be kept of how these have been followed up and solved.

6.3 Mechanisms should be in place to ensure that the findings of inspections are reported back to the AEC and that any necessary follow up is instituted.

6.4 The provision of inspection reports to animal carers and researchers is encouraged.

7. Field research and research at remote sites

7.1 Research conducted in the field (such as wildlife research), research conducted at varying private properties (such as farm animal drug trials) and research conducted at sites remote from the location of the AEC create particular difficulties for conducting inspections. The difficulties include organising an inspection to coincide with a project which may be a "one off" trial on a private farm or a fauna survey in an uninhabited area, as well as the expense and time requirements involved in AEC members travelling to remote locations. The need for inspections in these situations should be assessed in terms of the research being conducted and potential benefits in terms of animal welfare to be gained from inspecting.

7.2 The following mechanisms may be considered to assist the monitoring of research in these situations:

7.2.1 Wildlife research

  • interview researcher
  • request researcher demonstrate by video or photographs selected field procedures and equipment used
  • request researcher bring equipment (eg animal trap) to an AEC meeting to show how it is used
  • arrange for agent or proxy of the AEC to conduct an inspection, and report back to the AEC with their findings

7.2.2 Trials on varying private properties

  • request video or photographs of procedures, animal holding areas, animals held
  • ensure AEC guidelines for animal care are in place and that the farm manager/animal carer is familiar with these
  • arrange for agent or proxy of the AEC to conduct an inspection, and report back to the AEC with their findings

7.2.3 Research at permanent research sites remote from the location of the AEC

  • request video or photographs of procedures, animal holding areas, animals held
  • arrange infrequent inspections at times that coincide with research being conducted to obtain maximum benefit from the inspection
  • arrange for agent or proxy of the AEC to conduct an inspection, and report back to the AEC with their findings

8. Role of animal welfare officers and individual AEC members

8.1 Animal welfare officers (who would usually be AEC members) have a valuable role in conducting inspections and reporting to the AEC. However, inspections by animal welfare officers should not take the place of AEC inspections that should also be conducted.

8.2 Where members of AECs have contact with research animals and animal holding areas in the course of their duties (for example animal attendants, researchers, veterinarians), this contact can be used to assist in monitoring of animal care but should not take the place of AEC inspections.

9. Recommended reading

Close E (rapporteur) (1992) AEC monitoring - for what, by whom and how often? ANZCCART Conference: Effective Animal Experimentation Committees pages 135 - 136.

Animal Research Review Panel Policy 13