The three Rs – Replace, Reduce, Refine animal experimentation

Animal experiments must only be allowed if no alternative methods are available for answering scientific questions. The number of laboratory animals and the strain that they suffer must be kept to a minimum. 

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National Research Program NRP 79 « Advancing 3R – Research, Animals and Society »

The Federal Council has launched a national research programme “Advancing 3R – Animals, Research and Society” in 2021.

The programme serves to investigate how to reduce the number of experiments on animals and to ensure that animal testing itself becomes less stressful. In addition, the foundations for ethical and societal aspects will be developed. The programme will last for five years and is funded with 20 million Francs. You can find the call for proposals for the NRP 79 here.

The project is guided by the 3R principles: Replace, Reduce, Refine. More information on 3R: Swiss 3R Competence Centre.

Researchers in Switzerland are obliged to keep animal experiments to a minimum. Rather than animal experiments, alternative methods must be used where possible. The 3R principles (replace, reduce, refine) call for the development and use of alternatives to animal experiments, the reduction of animal experiments to the absolute minimum and improvements in experiments to ensure that animals are subjected to a minimum of strain; see also under “More information > Links: Russell and Burch, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique”.

The pharmaceutical industry, researchers, laboratory animal experts, federal government, animal protection groups and politicians have been committed to the application of the 3Rs for the past 30 years. This has made it possible to cut the number of animal experiments from 2 million to 600,000 and to reduce the strain on the animals.

In 2015 the Federal Council approved a report on animal experimentation in Switzerland. The report demonstrates how research into alternative methods can be promoted, how the number of animal experiments can be reduced and how the strain on the animals involved can be lessened. To this end, the Federal Council proposes several measures (see “More information”).

From the 3R Research Foundation to the 3R Competence Centre

From 1987 to 2018 the 3R Research Foundation was in charge of funding 3R research projects on the 3R principles. The Foundation was a joint initiative of the Parliamentary Group for animal experimentation, the Animalfree Research foundation and Interpharma. It was supervised by the Federal Department of Home Affairs. The FSVO was represented on the Foundation’s board and expert committee. The 3R Research Foundation was replaced by the Swiss 3R Competence Centre in March 2018.

With the creation of the 3R Competence Centre (3RCC), higher education institutions and the pharmaceutical industry take the responsibility to further promote for establishing a 3Rs culture in Switzerland. The 3RCC not only funds 3R research projects. Its mandate also includes education and communication on the 3Rs. Politicians, federal government and animal welfare groups support the 3RCC in management bodies, and the FSVO participates in the 3RCC’s strategic management. The 3RCC consists of a head office in Bern and a network of coordinators responsible for the 3Rs within the higher education institutions.

The 3RCC is funded by the federal government (State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) and FSVO), Interpharma and the participating higher education institutions.

A research project on Refinement - alternatives to CO2

Mice and rats are euthanized with carbon dioxide (CO2) after animal experiments and also in laboratory animal facilities. However, new scientific evidence calls into question the suitability of CO2 for the euthanasia of rodents from an animal welfare perspective.

The FSVO is reviewing the suitability of CO2 for the euthanasia of mice and rats as part of its commitment to promoting the 3Rs. As with all procedures involving laboratory animals, euthanasia must be continually improved using the 3R principle of refinement.

At the 3R Symposium in 2018, the FSVO demonstrated the great relevance of euthanasia for animal welfare (Axiak Flammer et al. 2019). As a result of the 2019 3R Symposium, international researchers published priorities for scientific research into alternatives to CO2 (Steiner et al. 2019).

The 3R Symposium in 2020 was organised by the FSVO in partnership with the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) and the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA). The presentations of the FSVO/UFAW/HSA online symposium – Humanely ending the life of animals can be found on this website. You can find a report of the symposium on page 7 of the UFAW Newsletter Spring 2021. The abstracts of the symposium presentations can be found below.

More information

Last modification 23.09.2022

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