The 3Rs – The Extent to Which They Are Enforced and Followed in NZ

The 3Rs – The Extent to Which They Are Enforced and Followed in NZ

The 3Rs are promoted widely in NZ and are even in legislation but what does this actually mean in reality?

The 3Rs are a set of guiding principles widely promoted by the animal experimentation industry. 

Note: We do not endorse the 3Rs at all, we find these guidelines very problematic. We encourage you to read more about this here

The 3 Rs are: 

  1. The Refinement of scientific techniques;
  2. The Reduction in the numbers of animals used;
  3. The Replacement of animal procedures with non-animal procedures

Where the 3 Rs are mentioned in NZ legislation and guidelines:

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) — The below text was taken directly from the AWA:

Part 6: Use of animals in research, testing, and teaching

The other purposes of this Part are—

 to promote efforts—

  1. To reduce the number of animals used in research, testing, and teaching to the minimum necessary:
  2. To refine techniques used in any research, testing, and teaching so that the harm caused to the animals is minimized and the benefits are maximised:
  3. To replace animals as subjects for research, and testing by substituting, where appropriate, non-sentient or non-living alternatives:

to replace the use of animals in teaching by substituting for animals, where appropriate, non-sentient or non-living alternatives or by imparting the information in another way.



The 3Rs are also promoted in the Good Practice Guide for the use of animals in research, testing and teaching written by the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) and the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee (NAEAC). 

They are also generally in the Ethical Code of Conduct of facilities using animals for research, testing and teaching (RTT). The University of Otago mentions the 3Rs multiple times throughout their Code of Ethical Conduct, for example:

“1.2 Research, teaching, testing and the 3Rs. AS part of the CEC and the Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) processes, researchers are required to demonstrate why there are no alternative for the animal model and what will be done to minimise animal numbers and distress.”


3Rs must be considered when evaluating proposals:

MPI and the Government are meant to encourage the principles of the 3RS when animals are being used in RTT. 

Animal Ethics Committees must take the 3Rs into account when they are considering proposals for research, testing or teaching. This means that animals should only be used when there are no alternatives and that any harm to animals must be weighed up against the benefit to humans or other animals, and those harms must be minimised.

The Animal Welfare Amendment Act (No 2) 2015, (most of which came into force 1 January 2018) made changes to the AWA including:

  • Animal Ethics Committees (AECs) will be expressly required to consider whether a proposal for a project has both adequately assessed the suitability of using non-sentient or non-living alternatives and replacement with such alternatives. Although this is something AECs had done implicitly through application of the Three Rs (i.e. replacement, reduction and refinement), the Animal Welfare Amendment Act made this an explicit obligation. There was a six-month lead-in period before this requirement took effect to allow sufficient time for AECs to update their processes in terms of the information that research, testing or teaching proposals must include to satisfy this new requirement (effective November 2015).



When considering the use of animals for research, testing and teaching purposes, we know that AECs aren’t following through with this (the above) obligation and we openly challenge this claim. 

For example, there are countless alternatives to using animals for teaching methods that currently exist and developments are being made continuously. The fact that thousands of animals are still used each year in NZ for teaching purposes is a breach of the AWA.

The 3Rs are principles designed to make animal experimentation more palatable for the public and makes it appear humane and as if researchers are using the minimal number of animals possible. If this were true, no animals would be used for invasive research, testing and teaching purposes. This leads us to believe that the 3Rs act as more of a smoke screen than as guidelines with a genuine intent to replace the use of animals in RTT methods.

Read more about the many problems with the 3Rs here.