Animal ethics committees
Page revised: August 2017
Functions of Animal Ethics Committees
Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) provide avenues for public participation in the regulation of animal research.
AECs are responsible for approving and monitoring research within Accredited Animal Research Establishments, including carrying out inspections of animals and facilities.
No animal research may be carried out without AEC approval. AECs must consider and evaluate applications to conduct research on the basis of the researchers’ responses to a comprehensive set of questions, including their justification for the research, its likely impact on the animals, and procedures for preventing or alleviating pain and distress.
On behalf of the establishment, AECs have the power to stop inappropriate research and to discipline researchers by withdrawing their research approvals. They can require that adequate care, including emergency care, is provided for animals. They also provide guidance and support to researchers on matters relevant to animal welfare, through means such as the preparation of guidelines and dissemination of relevant scientific literature.
AECs are responsible for advising establishments on the changes to physical facilities that should be made to provide for the needs of the animals used.
Animal Ethics Committee membership
The membership and duties of AECs are laid down in the Animal Research Act 1985 and in the Australian Code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, which also provides guidance on how AECs should operate. Committee membership must include members as follows:
- Category A: a veterinarian
- Category B: an animal researcher
- Category C: a person with a demonstrated commitment to animal welfare who is not involved with the establishment, animal research or the supply of animals for research
- Category D: an independent person who does not fit the requirements of the other categories, is not associated with the establishment and who has never been involved in the use of animals for research.
The Code states that more than one person may be appointed to each category and, if an AEC has more than four members, categories C plus D should represent no less than one-third of the members.
The criteria used by the Animal Research Review Panel for assessment of AEC membership are documented in Panel Policy 9: Criteria for the Assessment of Animal Ethics Committee Membership . In examining applications from establishments for accreditation as animal research establishments, the memberships of AECs are assessed to ensure they are of acceptable composition. The Panel also assesses, and makes recommendations to the Secretary, on the suitability of all new appointments to AECs. All new AEC appointments must be approved by the Secretary. During site inspections, the Panel assesses the operation of the AECs.