The University of Western Australia (UWA) undertakes research and teaching involving the use of animals in the areas of biomedical, biological, agricultural, environmental and marine sciences to both answer research questions and to educate students in their pursuit of knowledge. These activities are supported by an animal breeding program, where animals cannot be economically sourced from other animal suppliers.
This research, teaching and breeding is undertaken in accordance with the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th Edition (2013) (hereafter referred to as the Code). The code is published by National Health and Medical Research Council. Further, research, teaching and breeding are conducted in accordance with the Licence to Use Animals for Scientific Purposes U1/ 2022-2024 which is issued by the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia in 2015 and valid until 31 December 2024.
The Code requires that all licensed institutions undertake an Independent External Review (IER) of the operations of its Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) every four years. These independent external reviews assist institutions to assess whether the procedures they have established meet the goals set out in the Code, and provides assurance that the institution, through its animal ethics committee (AEC), is delivering effective oversight of the care and use of the animals in its charge. The Code states that the process should be educational and provide an opportunity for self-assessment so that members of the AEC and those at the institution who have responsibilities for animal care and use are involved in achieving the desired outcomes.
An IER of UWA's AEC operations was conducted between 24 and 28 My 2021, following the previous review in June 2017. This review was conducted pursuant of the 8th Edition of the Code. The IER covered the operations of the AEC, and included meetings with senior University managers, Animal Welfare Office staff, veterinary staff, research managers, researchers and teachers and technical staff supporting animal care and breeding at the University. Inspections of facilities housing animals for research were conducted. Attention was paid to both the response to and implementation of the findings of the 2017 IER as well as the current status of compliance with the Code.
The Review Panel was impressed by the very high level of commitment and professionalism shown by staff in ensuring good animal health and welfare outcomes for animals involved in research and teaching at UWA. The Panel found that the AEC is recognised by the university as an important committee. It was noted that UWA has many well documented policies and procedure relating to AEC and to assist researchers in preparing applications and ensure high standards of animal health and welfare are maintained in teaching and research.
The involvement of external members in the AEC is well supported and facilitated by UWA. The newly introduced Research Online Application Portal appears to be an effective system for managing research AEC matters.
- That the minutes of meetings need to accurately reflect the decisions taken on approval of applications subject to modifications, that a Category C or D Member be used on any panel established to review response to modifications requested and the names of Reviewers be recorded in the meeting minutes.
- That the AEC revisit the requirement to include decapods in its list of animals requiring AEC approval under the Code.
- That if continued AEC approval for decapods is required, researchers are assisted in submitting husbandry, care and handling SOPs that will streamline future AEC approval processes and that references to decapods in the reference documentation be corrected to make it clear that this is a UWA requirement, not an NHMRC one.
- That the Green AEC develop and foster an understanding of the application of animal welfare to wildlife field research.
- That the Green AEC develop an understanding of the indigenous sensitivities and cultural imperatives involved in some field studies.
- That continued efforts be made to streamline the application and approval process.
- That ROAP access issues for key operational staff be rectified.
- More training for users of ROAP (both staff and researchers) should be provided.
- That further consideration be given to how communication between the AEC and researchers who have issues in obtaining approval of applications can be improved.
- That senior management of the University be made aware of the potential impacts budgetary cuts to the AEC system could have on maintaining compliance with Code and potential risk the institution’s Licence to Use Animals for teaching and research.
- That more use be made of the AWOs during meetings, to help address gaps in understanding which would otherwise create conflicting feedback.
- That the UWA veterinarians work with School of Biological Sciences, and external experts, to collate SOPs for long-term holding of non-domestic animal species such as cane toads.
- That the Facility Inspection Report form be amended to include seeking feedback from technical staff on animal health and welfare.
- That the husbandry of animals held in the SNRI facility be reviewed to explore processes which could extend the maximum holding period (currently 2 weeks).
- That the AWO undertake a cost-benefit analysis of providing padded flooring for all hoofstock.
- That the biosecurity protocols used at Ridgefield Farm be reviewed by the AWO and manager and adhered to.
- A current copy of the Licence should be on display at the SNRI facility.
Abbreviations used in this Summary
- Animal Care Services
- University of Western Australia Animal Ethics Committee
- Animal Ethics Office
- Animal Welfare Officer
- Animal Welfare Veterinary Advisor
- Category (Cat) A-D
- Categories of membership of the AEC as defined by the Code
- Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes 8th Edition (2013)
- Independent External Review
- National Health and Medical Research Council
- Research Online Application Portal
- Standard Operating Procedure
- The University of Western Australia
National Health and Medical Research Council (2013) Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes, 8th edition. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.