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 Australian code).

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

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 Australian code.

An AECs key role is to consider whether the potential effects on the well-being of the animals used for science is justified by the potential benefits to humans, animals or the environment. They are concerned with the well-being of animals before, during, and after a project, including animals kept for breeding the research animals.

The AEC must:

  • review applications for:
    • new projects
    • proposed modifications to approved projects
    • activities applicable to breeding programs
    • activities associated with the care and management of animals in facilities.
  • conduct follow-up review of approved projects and activities
  • monitor the care and use of animals, including housing conditions, practices, and procedures involved in the care of animals in facilities
  • take appropriate actions regarding non-compliance and unexpected adverse events
  • approve guidelines for the care and use of animals on behalf of the institution
  • provide advice and recommendations to the institution regarding the care and use of animals
  • report on its operations to the institution.

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

AEC membership

In accordance with the section 2.2.4 of the Australian code, 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

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 (POCTA Regs) requires mandatory training for AEC members in their obligations and responsibilities under the Australian 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 should contact   sp.licensing@ecodev.vic.gov.au

Page last updated: 31 Aug 2020