The Three Rs
The Three Rs (3Rs) are guiding principles for more ethical use of animals in testing. The 3Rs have a broader scope than simply encouraging alternatives to animal testing, but aim to improve animal welfare and scientific quality where the use of animals cannot be avoided. In many countries, these 3Rs are now explicit in legislation governing animal use.
In 1954, the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) decided to sponsor systematic research on the progress of humane techniques in the laboratory. In October of that year, William Russell, described as a brilliant young zoologist who happened to be also a psychologist and a classical scholar, and Rex Burch, a microbiologist, were appointed to inaugurate a systematic study of laboratory techniques in their ethical aspects. In 1956, they prepared a general report to the Federation's committees, and this report formed the nucleus of the book which was completed at the beginning of 1958.
In the original book, the 3Rs were restricted, arbitrarily, to vertebrates. Russell and Burch discussed the possibility of suffering with reference to sentience. They used the term "replacement technique" for any scientific method using non-sentient material to replace methods which use conscious living vertebrates. This non-sentient material included higher plants, microorganisms, and the more degenerate metazoan endoparasites which, they argued, had nervous and sensory systems that were almost atrophied. They acknowledged that the arbitrary exclusion of invertebrates meant that in several contexts, these species could be considered as possible replacements for vertebrate subjects; they termed this "comparative substitution".
Replacement strategies include:
Reduction refers to methods which minimise the number of animals used per study. Russell and Burch suggested a reduction in the number of animals used could be achieved in several ways.
One general way in which great reduction may occur is by the right choice of strategies in the planning and performance of whole lines of research. A second method is by controlling variation amongst the animals used in studies, and a third method is careful design and analysis of studies.
With the advent, development and availability of computers since the original 3Rs, large data-sets can be used in statistical analysis, perhaps most notably meta-analysis, thereby reducing the numbers of animals used.
In some cases, by using previously published studies, the use of animals can be totally avoided by avoiding unnecessary replication. Modern imaging techniques also allow reductions in the numbers of animals used, for example by providing greater information from each animal used.
Russell and Burch wrote "Suppose, for a particular purpose, we cannot use replacing techniques. Suppose it is agreed that we shall be using every device of theory and practice to reduce to a minimum the number of animals we have to employ. It is at this point that refinement starts, and its object is simply to reduce to an absolute minimum the amount of distress imposed on those animals that are still used."
Refinements techniques may include:
Please note, Chivalric Ethology does not support, endorse or accept that animal testing is acceptable. We hold that the ends do not justify the means and moreover, the science in so many cases is fundamentally flawed and therefore inaccurate. See here for more information about the weaknesses of animal testing.