New RSPCA figures show that a “worryingly high number” of journals have no editorial policy regarding the use of animals in the scientific research they publish.

New RSPCA figures show that a “worryingly high number” of journals have no editorial policy regarding the use of animals in the scientific research they publish.

Laboratory mouseA paper written by Dr Nikki Osborne – senior scientific officer from the RSPCA research animals department – and published in the American Journal of Bioethics on December 7, highlights how the industry is “failing its potential to communicate quality science by not requiring authors to consider animal welfare”.

The paper states that, between July 2007 and June 2008:

  • 2,046 scientific journals published four or more articles involving the use of animals in research and testing.
  • 309 of these were picked at random and, of these, nearly 60 per cent did no more than refer authors to general guidelines on animal care. The rest had no editorial policy relating to the use of animals in research at all.

Dr Osborne said: “This is of great concern to us given that these journals published a total of 8,133 articles involving animal use last year. Journals are instrumental in communicating scientific knowledge around the world which is why it’s vital that animal welfare and implementation of the ‘three Rs’ becomes a core component of journal editorial policies.”

The 3Rs
Methods which avoid or replace the use of animals.
Minimising the numbers of animals used – for example by improving the experimental design and statistical analysis used in a study.
Improving experimental procedures, and other factors affecting animals such as their housing and care, to reduce suffering and improve welfare throughout the animals’ lives.

Model for good practice
For three years, the RSPCA has surveyed journal editorial policies relating to research involving animals. As a result, the RSPCA has produced a set of publication policy principles and a “good practice model” for journals to use, which sets out how they can ensure the research they publish gives full consideration to animal welfare and reflects contemporary good practice in animal research.

Dr Osborne added: “During our research we discovered that journals were keen to adopt new policies regarding animal use, but had no idea how to go about doing it. Our good practice model makes it easy for them to include RSPCA best practice in their guidelines. There really is no excuse for the welfare of animals used in research to be ignored.”

Animal welfare indicators report
Figures from this year’s survey are soon to be published in the RSPCA’s annual animal welfare indicators report, which allows the society to measure how the UK is performing with regard to the welfare of its animals.

Helen Ball, the RSPCA’s indicator project manager, said: “The society is launching a challenge to journal editors and publishers to adopt these guidelines. We will re-affirm this challenge at a conference next autumn and monitor how many journals take up our challenge through our annual survey.”

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