Use of Animals in Research and Reporting of Animal Experiments — The Need for Improvement
This editorial in the journal Vascular Pharmacology examines EU-wide and UK-specific guidelines relating to animal welfare in laboratories. It presents the key reasons why the journal requires authors to comply with the European Union Directive on animal research, and describes the penalties that face researchers who don’t. The paper notes, however, that it is very difficult for the editorial board of the journal to know if animal welfare guidelines are being fully adhered to, and that they are actively engaged in a process to improve how they assess the ethics of the papers they receive.
Jeremy Pearson’s editorial for Vascular Pharmacology begins with an admission of doubt. After establishing that the journal requires all research submitted to it to abide by the EU Directive on animal research, he states that he “suspects that in practice, very few authors have read this Directive, and rely primarily on their local veterinary staff and animal technicians to ensure that the framework for upholding the directive is in place.” The EU Directive is a set of minimum standards that describe how animals should be housed and cared for, and also mandates regular inspections of facilities by independent inspectors. Pearson notes that even though it’s “unlikely” for the editors and reviewers of the journal to have personal knowledge of the welfare standards at any given facility, they have protocols in place should anything seem not to be up to standard. He says, “authors submitting manuscripts to Vascular Pharmacology must provide sufficient detail to allow readers to judge [if guidelines have been followed].” In other words, the burden of proof for showing that animal welfare guidelines have been followed is on the authors submitting work to the journal.
Why is this explanation of existing regulations, and the journal’s adherence to them, important? Pearson says, “a recent paper indicates that reporting standards have yet to improve markedly following the publication of the ARRIVE (Animal Research: Reporting of In Vivo Experiments) guidelines over 2 years ago. It, and an accompanying editorial, urge that authors, reviewers and editors are all more diligent in checking that reporting standards are adequate in relation to papers where animals are used for research.” Of course, all of this is stated in a context where this and many other scientific journals see animal use as a given. He notes that “like the large majority of bioscientists, we believe that the use of animals in research is justifiable, but only when the NC3Rs [Reduction, Replacement, Refinement] principles are followed.”
To address the gap between regulation and better reporting standards, Pearson notes that he and the rest of the editorial board “will query any apparent examples of poor practice in the ethical use of animals, the chosen experimental design, or the standard of reporting in the submitted manuscript. Failure to provide a satisfactory response will lead to rejection by the journal.” Even though the journal in general sees the use of animals in research as “scientifically justified,” it is somewhat surprising that they feel the need to explicitly state that they would reject ethically questionable work. Pearson ends by pronouncing that, “welfare of animals is a critical issue and it is important to ensure that the scientific community is united in its duty to ensure the responsible use of animals for research.”