Animal Ethics - Why?

"Animal Ethics" is about how we think about and interact with animals. In Australia, the overwhelming public consensus is that a high standard of welfare and well-being of animals should be upheld and that animals should be protected from any acts of abuse, cruelty or neglect. Within that overarching belief, there is a general acceptance that animals will be used for research and teaching, but such use is only accepted on the understanding that it is limited, regulated and only undertaken when the benefits of the activity justify the cost to the animals. To safeguard the welfare of animals, uphold compliance with legislation regarding use of animals, and ensure there is accountability for any use of animals in research or teaching, all such use must be approved and monitored by an Animal Ethics Committee (AEC).

"An obligation to respect animals .... brings with it a responsibility to ensure that the care and use of animals for scientific purposes is ethically acceptable, balancing whether the potential effects on the wellbeing of the animals involved is justified by the potential benefits to humans, animals or the environment. The use of animals for scientific purposes must have scientific or educational merit; must aim to benefit humans, animals or the environment; and must be conducted with integrity. When animals are used, the number of animals involved must be minimised, the wellbeing of the animals must be supported, and harm, including pain and distress, in those animals must be avoided or minimised." (1)

The University of South Australia promotes and upholds best practice in animal welfare and in the conduct of animal-based research and teaching activities. The use of animals for research and teaching is regulated by the South Australian Animal Welfare Act 1985. The University of South Australia is licensed under the Act to acquire and use animals for teaching, research or experimentation involving animals.

"Teaching, research or experimentation" is defined as any activity that involves the use of live animals for the acquisition, development or demonstration of scientific knowledge or techniques. This definition covers the whole spectrum of research and teaching activity, from laboratory-based study to the observation and noting of an animal's behaviour within its own habitat.

"Animal" is defined by the UniSA AEC, for these purposes, as any:

  • Non-human vertebrate (including mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians)
  • Cephalopod (e.g. octopus, squid and cuttlefish)
  • Decapod (such as crayfish, crabs, lobsters, prawns and shrimp)

Use of lower-order invertebrates (such as insects, worms, sponges or spiders) does not need AEC approval. However, if there is emerging evidence that a supposed "lower-order" animal may be sentient and able to experience pain and distress, AEC approval may be required for its use in research or teaching. Any enquiries as to whether or not use of an animal requires AEC approval should be submitted to the Animal Ethics Officer.

Regulations and requirements for the use of animals for teaching, research or experimentation at UniSA are stipulated at three levels: South Australian legislation, a Code of conduct and University policy.

The South Australia Animal Welfare Act, 1985 (Part 4) sets out the legal conditions under which a person may use animals for teaching, research or experimentation, and also regulates the structure and function of Animal Ethics Committees within South Australia.

The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes "provides an ethical framework and governing principles to guide decisions and actions of all those involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. The Code details the responsibilities of investigators, animal carers, institutions and animal ethics committees (AECs), and all people involved in the care and use of animals, and describes processes for accountability."(2)

University policy RES 3.3 outlines the University's requirements for any use of animals for teaching and research purposes.
Any teaching, research or experimentation involving animals that is undertaken at UniSA or by UniSA personnel (employees, adjuncts, students or volunteers) must be conducted in compliance with all three of these documents.

Any teaching, research or experimentation involving animals that is undertaken at UniSA or by UniSA personnel (employees, adjuncts, students or volunteers) must be conducted in compliance with all three of these documents.


(1) (2) 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.