The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (the Code) requires the application of the 3Rs ('replacement', 'reduction' and 'refinement') at all stages of animal care and use. 

The 3Rs are part of the fundamental framework for the ethical, humane and responsible care and use of animals for scientific purposes in Australia. They are accepted internationally, and in Australia through adoption of the Code in state and territory legislation. 

The 3Rs underpin the requirements in the entire Code including the responsibilities of institutions, animal ethics committees (AECs), investigators and animal carers. All those involved have a responsibility to ensure the consideration and implementation of alternative approaches that do not use animals (Replacement). If the use of animals is the only way to obtain the necessary information, they have a responsibility to ensure that the studies are of the highest quality, designed to involve the smallest number of animals necessary to achieve the study’s aims and to satisfy good statistical design (Reduction), and to support and safeguard animal wellbeing (Refinement).

The Code defines the 3Rs as follows:

  • Replacement: methods that permit a given purpose of an activity or project to be achieved without the use of animals.
  • Reduction: methods for obtaining comparable levels of information from the use of fewer animals in scientific procedures or for obtaining more information from the same number of animals. (The Code also outlines that the number of animals used must satisfy good statistical design, and that the use of too few animals may invalidate experimental results and cause wastage of animals [Clause 1.21].) 
  • Refinement: methods that alleviate or minimise potential pain and distress, and enhance animal wellbeing.

The 3Rs in Australia

Currently, there is limited evidence on how the 3Rs are implemented in Australia. NHMRC conducted its '3Rs Project', overseen by NHMRC’s Animal Welfare Committee, to address this information gap. This project led to the development of the Information Paper: Implementation of the 3Rs in Australia (2019).

The major component of the 3Rs Project was a survey of investigators, AEC members and institutions. The design of the 3Rs Survey was informed by a literature review as well as similar international surveys and relevant requirements in the Code. The independent report from the 3Rs Survey is provided under ‘Related information’ below.

Implementation of the 3Rs is the responsibility of the research sector as a whole. NHMRC is providing this Information Paper for broad circulation within the Australian community to promote informed discussion about the implementation of the 3Rs in Australia, and to guide any recommendations for improvements if required.

NHMRC and the 3Rs

NHMRC does not fund research involving animals unless the work is: 

  • of high quality and significance as determined by NHMRC's peer review process 
  • ethically reviewed and approved by an AEC before the work begins, and 
  • conducted in accordance with relevant legislation and the Code, which includes the application of the 3Rs. 

For institutions and researchers receiving NHMRC funds, NHMRC's expectations are that:

  • Institutions promote compliance with the Code with respect to the 3Rs, including the development and promotion of relevant policies and procedures and the provisions of training and resources, as outlined in the Code.
  • Researchers apply the principles of the 3Rs at all stages of animal care and use including planning, conducting and reviewing projects, as outlined in the Code.

Related information:

Enquiries 

For further information about the 3Rs Project, please contact ethics@nhmrc.gov.au