Animal Ethics Committees

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 requires that persons conducting research using animals comply with the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th edition 2013 (the Code).

Licence holders must nominate an Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) to oversee the conduct of the institution's care and use of animals for scientific purposes.

AEC membership

In accordance with the Australian for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes 8th edition 2013 (the Code) — refer to section 2.2.4, an AEC must comprise at least 4 persons, 1 from each of the following categories:

  • Category A—a person with qualifications in veterinary science that are recognised for registration as a veterinary surgeon in Australia, and with experience relevant to the institution’s activities or the ability to acquire relevant knowledge.
  • Category B—a suitably qualified person with substantial and recent experience in the use of animals for scientific purposes relevant to the institution and the business of the AEC. This must include possession of a higher degree in research or equivalent experience. If the business of the AEC relates to the use of animals for teaching only, a teacher with substantial and recent experience may be appointed.
  • Category C—a person with demonstrable commitment to, and established experience in, furthering the welfare of animals, who is not employed by or otherwise associated with the institution, and who is not currently involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. Veterinarians with specific animal welfare interest and experience may meet the requirements of this category. While not representing an animal welfare organisation, the person should, where possible, be selected on the basis of active membership of, and endorsement by, such an organisation.
  • Category D—a person not employed by or otherwise associated with the institution and who has never been involved in the use of animals in scientific or teaching activities, either in their employment or beyond their undergraduate education. Category D members should be viewed by the wider community as bringing a completely independent view to the AEC, and must not fit the requirements of any other category.

Mandatory training for AEC members

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 (POCTA Regs) require mandatory training for AEC members in their obligations and responsibilities under the Code.

In accordance with regulation 144 of the POCTA Regs:

  • the Minister for Agriculture may approve Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) member training courses by notice in the Government Gazette, and
  • completion of an approved training course is required for all AEC members appointed (but not reappointed) to a committee on or after 14 December 2019, prior to or within 6 months of their appointment.

Animal Welfare Victoria provides an approved course for AEC members. For more information please contact the licensing officer at sp.licensing@ecodev.vic.gov.au

Organisations interested in developing an AEC member training course for Ministerial approval may contact the Manager, Licensing and Audit for guidance sp.licensing@ecodev.vic.gov.au

The Role of an AEC

The primary responsibility of AECs is to ensure that all care and use of animals is conducted in compliance with the Code.

The Code imposes an obligation on all people involved in the care and use of animals to consider four governing principles. These principles are outlined in section 1 of the Code, in summary:

  1. Respect for animals must underpin all decisions and actions involving the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. This respect is demonstrated by:
    (i) using animals only when it is justified
    (ii) supporting the wellbeing of the animals involved
    (iii) avoiding or minimising harm, including pain and distress, to those animals
    (iv) applying high standards of scientific integrity
    (v) applying replacement of animals with other methods, reduction in the number of animals used and refinement of techniques used to minimise the adverse impact on animals (the 3Rs) at all stages of animal care and use
    (vi) knowing and accepting one’s responsibilities.
  2. The care and use of animals for scientific purposes must be subject to ethical review.
  3. A judgement as to whether a proposed use of animals is ethically acceptable must be based on information that demonstrates the principles above, and must balance whether the potential effects on the wellbeing of the animals involved is justified by the potential benefits.
  4. The obligation to respect animals, and the responsibilities associated with this obligation, apply throughout the animal’s lifetime, including acquisition, transport, breeding, housing, husbandry, use of the animal in a project, and provisions for the animal at the conclusion of their use.

Animal Welfare Victoria guidelines assist AEC members in carrying out their duties.

Page last updated: 15 Jul 2020