In interpreting the year’s figures, it is important not to confuse the number of animal experiments conducted with the number of laboratory animals used. Although any experiment on animals indeed requires a laboratory animal, if that same animal is used in a second experiment, there are two animal experiments but still one laboratory animal.
This 2015 Annual Report on Animal Experiments by Utrecht University (UU) and the University Medical Center Utrecht (UMC Utrecht) provides some general information about the use of laboratory animals and experimentation on animals by the two institutions. This publication was prompted in part by the Animal Experiment Transparency Code of the Netherlands.
This annual report is only one of the ways in which we are promoting openness about experiments on animals. For example, there is the extremely informative website of the Animal Welfare Body Utrecht, as well as the websites of the Animal Ethics Committee Utrecht (DEC Utrecht) and the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences.
Responsibility in animal experiments
Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht do mainly bio-medical and veterinary research. The aims of this research include increasing safety and improving the quality of life for both people and animals, primarily by preventing or curing illnesses. Many experiments can be done using cultured cells, computer simulations or volunteers. In some cases it is necessary to conduct experiments on animals.
Under Dutch law, experiments may only be done on animals if no other way is possible. If it is necessary to use animals, as few of them must be used as possible, and they must undergo minimal discomfort. Like humans, animals (in particular vertebrates) experience welfare, and thus they also are aware when their welfare is affected. In addition, animals also have intrinsic value as individuals, which means that we must respect their physical integrity and their right to life. Researchers aiming to design an experiment using animals must always check if any ‘3R’ methods (replacement, reduction, refining) can be applied in the experiment, and must describe these methods when applying for a licence.
Internal supervision and advice
Since 2015, when the 2014 revisions to the Animal Experiments Act (Wet op de dierproeven, or WOD) took effect, any organisation working with laboratory animals must have an Animal Welfare Body. The Animal Welfare Body Utrecht fulfils this role for the UMC Utrecht, Utrecht University and other bodies. Along with the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences, the AWB Utrecht makes recommendations about animal welfare and implementing the 3Rs (the latter working closely with the 3Rs-Centre Utrecht Life Sciences) to staff involved in experiments on animals, evaluates licence applications for research projects and the concrete work protocols they involve. In 2015 the AWB worked to bring the procedures within the two institutions into line with the revised law. They also developed a quality assurance system.
Issuing the licence
The DEC Utrecht weighs the ethical arguments for the importance of the research or education against those for the welfare of the laboratory animals. It advises the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD), who issues licences to conduct experiments on animals. The Netherlands Food and Consumer Products Authority (NVWA) monitors experiments on behalf of the national government. The Netherlands National Committee for the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (NCad) advises the Minister of Economic Affairs, the CCD and Animal Welfare Bodies on experiments on animals and the potential of 3R methods, draws up guidelines and codes of practice, and stimulates knowledge exchange.
In many cases, much of the research in a study can be done without using animals, but the results must ultimately be verified in a live animal so that unanticipated effects on living organisms can be studied. In addition, laboratory animals are needed for education in both human and veterinary medicine (such as for students practicing their skills). Here as well, many non-animal models are already in use, for example using bicycle tires as imitation skin in teaching suturing techniques.
In order to use as few animals as possible, the 3Rs are used by both institutions in all phases of the study: these are Reduction (of the number of laboratory animals), Refinement (to minimise discomfort) and Replacement (of the experiment with one not using animals, or with animals for whom it causes less discomfort). The Utrecht University’s 3Rs-Centre ULS and other bodies encourage the use of these methods. Moreover, preparations were made in 2015 for a joint stimulus fund. The close collaboration with the laboratory animal-rights organisation Proefdiervrij on the Animal donor codicil was continued.