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Levels of animal suffering continue to be poorly reported

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Rabbit being touched with gloved hand

The levels of suffering experienced by animals used in experiments continues to be poorly reported in public documents, our investigations have found.

Our newest research into the quality of Non-Technical Project Summaries (NTS) – legally required documents which must be completed and made public before any animal testing project can be allowed to start – has revealed that, despite recent legislative changes meant to improve the documents, still less than half of the NTS published in Germany and the UK fully describe the adverse effects likely to be experienced by the animals involved.

The full paper, written by our Deputy Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, Laura Rego Alvarez, our former Director of Science and Regulatory Affairs, Dr Katy Taylor, and Tilo Weber, from the Animal Welfare Academy of the German Animal Welfare Federation, can be read on the ALTEX website.

All EU countries, and the UK, have to publish an NTS for every research project that uses animals, to help the public understand what animals experience during experiments. To improve transparency, these summaries are intended to be easily accessible and understandable by members of the public. Our previous review found that the information provided in the NTS published by the UK and Germany was lacking in many cases, preventing a full understanding of what animals undergoing the testing would experience. In particular, the NTS frequently failed to fully describe what procedures the animals would be subjected to, how often they would take place, how long they would last and the harm they would cause.

Our latest research looked at what progress has been made since the recommendations we made in 2018 to improve NTS and following recent legislative changes in the EU, including the requirement for NTS to be published in a central database using a standard template. Even though the UK has left the EU it continues to use the same template.

We found that there has been a significant improvement in the reporting of five of the six elements we identified as essential to sufficient completion of the ‘predicted harms’ section of the NTS, including a description of what the procedures involve, how often they happen, how long they last, what level of severity they are expected to cause (i.e., classified as “mild”, “moderate” or “severe”) and what will happen to the animals at the end of the project.

Yet still just 41% of NTS in Germany and 48% of UK NTS adequately describe the expected harmful effects of the procedures on animals. Sadly, researchers are still failing to fully consider all the symptoms the animals might actually experience (e.g., nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue) nor the specific location, degree, type and duration of any pain.  Instead, this section is often used to reassure that any pain, distress and suffering will be minimised without describing how the animals might still yet suffer even though these mitigating factors are in place.

Laura Rego Alvarez said: “NTS are a key means to communicate the impact of tests on animals; researchers clearly need further support in describing the true impact of their research on the animals involved. We have created a checklist and a list of suggested terms to help guide the preparation of higher-quality and more transparent NTS.

“The UK Home Office consider NTS a key part of their policy on transparency in animal testing, which underlines the importance that NTS are fit for purpose. Further improvements are needed for NTS to be effective tools for sharing good practice, supporting policy-making and, ultimately, helping to protect animals used in experiments.”

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