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4. Respect for laboratory animals involved in biomedical research

4. Respect for laboratory animals involved in biomedical research

This chapter reiterates the demand formulated by politicians and supported by society to accord respect to laboratory animals. The Netherlands has strict legislation on the treatment of laboratory animals. In Dutch university medical centres (UMCs), laboratory animals are to be treated 'humanely' and must be housed, cared for and handled in accordance with the European Directive of 22 September 2010 .

4.1 Legal framework

Respect for laboratory animals is enshrined in the 1977 Experiments on Animals Act (Wet Op de Dierproeven; WoD ). It is forbidden to carry out an animal test to achieve something that could be achieved in another way or by using a test that involves fewer animals and/or causes less discomfort. In addition, the scientific value of the test must be in proportion to the discomfort caused to the animal. The act includes licensing regulations. The licensee is the executive board. Responsibility for legal enforcement of the regulations rests with the chairman of the executive board.

With regard to the competence of persons who are permitted to perform animal experiments, Section 9 of the act prescribes that in order to plan and supervise animal tests, researchers must have undergone preparatory training as set out in the Animal Tests Decree (the training comprises at least 500 hours of academic study of basic biology) and must have taken a compulsory course on laboratory animal science. These researchers are referred to as 'Section 9 officers'. Section 12 states that the people who look after the animals and those who carry out the actual experiments must be specially trained technicians/biotechnicians and animal attendants ('Section 12 officers'). With regard to supervising the welfare of the animals, Section 14 states that each licensee must have a laboratory animal science specialist ('Section 14 officer'), a person with preparatory training as set out in the decree and experience of carrying out animal tests followed by a postgraduate course in laboratory animal science. An animal experiments committee (usually referred to internationally as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee; IACUC) must be asked to examine the discomfort for the animals and the importance for society and science of proposed animal tests. The act states that the inspectorate ( Nederlandse Voedsel en Waren Autoriteit; NVWA ) ('Section 20 officer') is responsible for enforcing the act.

4.2 Ethical principles

According to the Code of Practice of the Dutch Association for Animal Science (Nederlandse Vereniging voor Proefdierkunde; NVP ), researchers are required to learn and observe in practice. This is also stated in the Experiments on Animals Act. The general principle the act provides and that must be taken into account in any proposed animal test, is the 'recognition of the animal's intrinsic value'; in other words, an animal must not be used purely as a means to an end, but must be protected and respected for its own sake. The wording reflects the ethical principle that an animal has more than just instrumental value, that is, its value is not identical to its utility to mankind. This intrinsic value is not earned by the animal; it is not the result of our appreciation of the animal, whether based on ideology or not. On the contrary, it is the reason why animals are appreciated and treated with respect. Recognition of the intrinsic value of animals implies that mankind has direct moral obligations towards them. The intrinsic value of animals also means that when designing an experiment, a researcher must endeavour to take account of the animals' species-specific behaviour and their self-sufficiency. The aim must be to keep the animals as 'intact or whole' as possible.

 The Experiments on Animals Act is available at:

 The website of the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (Nederlandse Voedsel en Waren Autoriteit; NVWA) provides information about animals, animal welfare and experiments on animals. See

For information on experiments on animals at the AMC, see: intranet/Research/ and for the VUmc see this page .

The annual report of the inspectorate (NVWA) 'Zo doende', with data on the use of animals for experiments, can be downloaded from:

4.3 Animal experiments committees

A proposal for research on laboratory animals is made by the responsible Section 9 officer using a detailed application form. The animal experiments committee considers the application and advises the licensee accordingly. The committee provides an assessment of the value of discomfort caused by the experiment that is as objective as possible. The committee can also put forward fresh ideas and correct shortcomings in, for instance, the design or implementation of the experiment. Establishing the scientific quality of proposed research is an important prerequisite of ethical review. As the committee may not be sufficiently equipped to assess scientific quality in the various fields of research it has to deal with, proposals require prior review by the scientific review board of the respective department or institute.

The researcher is required to keep the effects of the interventions to a minimum, based on the three R's: refinement, replacement and reduction. When considering an application, the committee pays careful attention to the effects of the intervention on the animal and to its discomfort. The committee assesses this against the social and scientific benefit to humans, animals and/or science. There are exceptions: not all experiments can be justified in terms of special benefits to mankind. In order to prevent extreme discomfort, careful consultation and appropriately binding agreements between the committee and the researcher, keeping a welfare journal for each animal experimented upon, and supervision by and advice from the laboratory animal science specialist are important. Every year, each licensee (AMC or VUmc) sends the data on all the animal experiments for which it is responsible to the inspectorate (NVWA). The inspectorate compiles an overview from all the registration forms and publishes it in its annual report (entitled 'Zo doende' ).

4.4 Animal experiments course

According to the Experiments on Animals Act , anyone who wishes to do research on laboratory animals must take the Laboratory Animal Science course. This course teaches the careful and justifiable use of laboratory animals in biomedical research. It is a three-week course covering such areas as the legal, ethical and social aspects of animal experiments; the comparative biology and zoo technology of commonly used laboratory animals; animal accommodation and welfare; pathology; genetics; anaesthesiology; experimental techniques; trial design and statistics; aspects of stress and immunological research; and alternatives to animal experiments. The course is run jointly by the licensee of the University of Amsterdam (UvA), VU University Amsterdam (VU), the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen; KNAW) and the Netherlands Cancer Institute (Nederlands Kanker Instituut; NKI).

Laboratory Animal Science Course : For information on this course in Amsterdam, please contact K. van den Oever, email: , tel. 020-5666479.