The welfare of animals used in research is very important. Researchers would prefer not to use animals at all, so they work hard to find alternatives and, where there are currently none, they use the smallest number of animals they can and ensure these are looked after well and do not feel any preventable discomfort.

These principles are called the 3Rs:

  • Replace the use of animals with alternative techniques, or avoid the use of animals altogether
  • Reduce the number of animals used to a minimum by seeking ways to find out information from fewer animals or more information from the same number of animals
  • Refine the way experiments are carried out, to make sure animals suffer as little as possible. This includes better housing and improvements to procedures which minimise pain and suffering and/or improve animal welfare

Researchers are required to demonstrate that they are applying the 3Rs before they will be granted a license to conduct a project using animals. This means ensuring they are using the minimum number of animals possible and taking steps to reduce to a minimum any pain, suffering distress or discomfort that may be caused to the animals.

They are also encouraged to follow guidelines when they publish information about their completed projects. This is to ensure they include information on how the study was designed, conducted and analysed, which could be useful to inform future scientific studies and policy, and may help other researchers to use fewer animals in future.

Research is funded into the 3Rs, aiming to develop alternatives to using animals, reduce the number of animals used and improve the welfare of animals involved in research. The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction in Animals in Research (NC3Rs) is an independent scientific organisation tasked by the government to drive and fund this research.