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Frequently Asked Questions

Who cares for the animals?

The Pirbright Institute’s Animal Technicians are experienced specialists in the care of animals. They are all trained in daily animal handling, husbandry, the recognition of signs of pain, distress and disease and the ethics on the use of animals in research.

All of  the Institute’s Animal Technicians undertake an accredited Personal Licence training course. Once qualified, they receive further inhouse practical training and supervision to enable them to undertake Licenced procedures at The Pirbright Institute.

Which species are used at The Pirbright Institute?

Research programmes at The Pirbright Institute are of the highest quality and only use animals when there are no alternatives.

The Institute mostly works with farm species; the species that will principally benefit from our research e.g. cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and poultry. In common with many UK animal facilities, Pirbright also works with mice, rabbits and guinea pigs.

How are animals sourced?

Farm animal species (e.g. cattle, pigs, goats, sheep) are either sourced from The Institute’s own herds or from a list of approved suppliers.

All small animal species (e.g. mice, guinea pigs, rabbits) are purchased from approved suppliers.

Animals sourced for use at Pirbright are subject to health screening programs to ensure animal welfare and health is of the highest standard.

How are the animals housed and fed?

Pirbright has a number of high containment and conventional animal units which can house a range of species from small to large animals.

Our animal facilities meet (and where possible, exceed) the ‘Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Bred, Supplied or Used for Scientific Purposes.’ The purpose of this Code of Practice is to ensure that the design, construction and function of the installations and equipment of licenced establishments – along with staffing, care and practices – allow procedures to be carried out as effectively as possible.

All animals are kept in the best possible environment available to ensure and maintain their health and welfare. They are housed in rooms, pens, cages or isolators (dependent on species and study requirements) with bedding and nesting material. Enrichment is available to provide a stimulating environment in order for the animals to demonstrate their species typical behavior and to enhance and ensure their well-being.

We provide all species with a range of enrichment items. Large animals like cows and pigs are provided with mineral licks, brushes, toys, treats, bedding material and/or rubber matting. Small animals such as mice are provided with running wheels, nest boxes and nesting material.

Through 2016/17, The Pirbright Institute worked with Understanding Animal Research, an organisation that promotes openness and better understanding about animal research in the UK, to develop the Lab Animal Tour.


The Lab Animal Tour, which provides the viewer with an interactive 360 virtual tour of the animal facilities, features several scientists who explain why animals are so essential to their research, and also includes interviews with the Animal Technicians who ensure high standards of care and welfare for the animals at Pirbright day-to-day.

To take a tour of our facilities, please go to http://www.labanimaltour.org/pirbright.

How are the animals monitored?

All animals are checked at a minimum twice daily to ensure that they are in good health and comprehensive veterinary support is available at all times to ensure any welfare concerns are dealt with as quickly as possible.

Animal health records are completed by our Animal Technicians upon receiving the animals. These completed forms document:

  • the identity of the animals (including ear tag numbers)
  • descriptions of any illnesses, injuries or behavioral problems
  • dates and details of all medical observations, examinations or procedures
  • dates and details of all treatments

How many procedures do you carry out on animals each year?

The Pirbright Institute is committed to the highest standards of animal care and welfare. Our scientists are committed to the principles of the 3Rs: reduction (in numbers), refinement (of procedures) and replacement (with laboratory procedures) of animals. The 3Rs is central to the Institute’s values and we take seriously our responsibility to ensure that experiments are designed with the aim of avoiding the use of animals wherever possible whilst ensuring that we produce results that are of benefit to animal health and welfare in the longer term.

The impact of the work carried out by the Institute in improving the welfare of livestock in the UK and overseas is considerable. Therefore the proportionate use of animals is an integral and necessary part of the research that leads to the development of useful veterinary vaccines and diagnostics. These safeguard the wellbeing of countless livestock and the livelihoods of their owners.

In the UK, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) regulates the use of animals in scientific procedures. All organisations undertaking regulated procedures under ASPA have to supply data to the Home Office for publication in the annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures using Living Animals.

It is illegal to use animals if there are alternative non-animal methods available and the expected benefits resulting from the research must outweigh any potential animal suffering. The Pirbright Institute makes every attempt to minimise the number of animals used and animals are only used when no alternatives exist.  

ASPA requires extensive project evaluation, taking into consideration ethical implications associated with the use of animals in scientific research. All programmes of work are evaluated to ensure that the programme of work has sound scientific benefits. A harm-benefit analysis is also undertaken to assess whether the harm that would be caused to animals – in terms of pain, suffering or distress – is justified by the outcome, taking into account ethical considerations and the expected benefit to human beings, animals or the environment.

Each year, the Home Office produce an annual report which provides the statistics on scientific procedures on living animals. These figures are collected from each Establishment and published on the Home Office website.

The number of procedures undertaken each year will fluctuate according to global viral outbreaks, strategic and economic decisions by government and investment by funding bodies etc. However the 3Rs is central to the Institute’s values and we take seriously our responsibility to ensure that experiments are designed with the aim of avoiding the use of animals wherever possible whilst ensuring that we produce results that are of benefit to animal health and welfare in the longer term. Specialist statistical advice is always sought when designing new experimental studies.

Species Number of regulated procedures
2014
Number of regulated procedures
2015
Number of regulated procedures
2016
Number of regulated procedures
2017
Cattle 107 156 156 194
Pigs 67 244 255 362
Sheep 9 16 0 15
Goats 0 30 24 106
Domestic fowl 969 1581 411 958
Mice 441 406 91 74
Rabbits 15 0 18 8
Guinea pigs 0 0 18 20

What is the severity of the procedures undertaken at The Pirbright Institute?

In the UK, all regulated procedures undertaken on animals under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) must have the ‘actual severity’ recorded which the animal has experienced throughout the course of its experimental life, and reported to the Home Office on an annual basis.

Using those figures collected from each establishment, the Home Office produce an annual report which provides the statistics on scientific procedures on animals. These figures are published on the Home Office website.

Actual severity must reflect the highest severity of the procedure, including where the use of several lower severity procedures together or sequentially results in a higher level of severity accumulation of lesser events. The actual severity assessment is based on the real (not predicted) impact (harms).

At Pirbright, this is achieved through a ‘team approach’ by incorporating the expertise of researchers, veterinarians and animal technicians to ensure suitable welfare assessments are in place, reviewed and revised when necessary, and clearly understood by all those responsible for monitoring the animals. Our Project Licences have practicable and realistic humane end points which are rigorously applied; and we take all reasonable steps to ensure that animals do not exceed the severity limit in the Project Licence.

Descriptions of the severity categories can be found on the tabs below.

Procedures which are below the lower threshold for regulation (i.e. below the level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to that caused by giving an injection according to good veterinary practice).
Procedures on animals as a result of which the animals are likely to experience short-term mild pain, suffering or distress, as well as procedures with no significant impairment of the well-being or general condition of the animals . At the Institute, this could include an injection (or series of injections) of a vaccine, collecting blood samples or nasal swabs. In these studies, animals are monitored at least twice daily to ensure that they are in good health.
Procedures on animals as a result of which the animals are likely to experience short-term moderate pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting mild pain, suffering or distress, as well as procedures that are likely to cause moderate impairment of the well-being or general condition of the animals. At Pirbright this could include the vaccination and infection of an animal with a virus to study the effectiveness of the vaccine. The animal may show clinical signs of disease which could include a rise in body temperature, nasal discharge, lameness etc. for a specified timeframe. In these studies, animals are closely monitored by our staff to ensure that they do not exceed the humane end points agreed within the Project Licence.
Procedures on animals as a result of which the animals are likely to experience severe pain, suffering or distress, or long-lasting moderate pain, suffering or distress, as well as procedures that are likely to cause severe impairment of the well-being or general condition of the animals . Where an animal has died and there is no information or reasonable indicative evidence to conclude why it died, then the likely suffering leading up to death cannot be determined based on an informed decision, the severe category is also applied.

Research at the Institute may include studies designed to characterise and understand the course of a virus infection, with the view to develop vaccines or other treatments. The clinical signs of disease to be observed would be specific to the virus but could include a fever, weight loss and behavioural changes over a specified timeframe leading to the severe category. In these studies, the frequency of inspection is increased and the animals are very closely monitored by our staff to ensure that they do not exceed the humane end points agreed within the Project Licence.

Procedures which are performed entirely under general anaesthesia where the animal would not recover consciousness. At Pirbright animals could be put under general anaesthesia for the collection of blood and tissue samples, and then euthanised without ever regaining consciousness.

Given the infectious nature of the viruses we work with, it is not possible to sell animals back into the national herd or to privately rehome them at the end of the studies. They are therefore euthanised by a trained and competent member of staff using an appropriate method.

The severity classification of procedures at the Institute varies from year to year depending on the research that is undertaken. Wherever possible, the fullest use of outcomes and techniques are shared including the supply of results, materials and samples to various interested parties, internally and externally, to accommodate their research needs and objectives and to promote the value of collaborative research by optimising reduction, replacement and refinement strategies, known as the 3Rs. Find out about about Pirbright's approach to the 3Rs.

As part of The Pirbright Institute’s commitment to openness and transparency, the severity categories of animals used in research in 2016 and 2017 are published in the tables below.

Type of animal Sub-threshold Mild Moderate Severe Non-recovery
Pigs 0 161 46 0 48
Mice 0 0 91 0 0
Cattle 0 49 107 0 0
Domestic fowl 0 337 74 0 0
Guinea pigs 0 18 0 0 0
Rabbits 0 18 0 0 0
Goats 0 20 4 0 0
Overall total 0 603 322 0 48
% total procedures severity limit 0% 62% 33% 0% 5%
Type of animal Sub-threshold Mild Moderate Severe Non-recovery
Pigs 0 277 67 0 18
Mice 0 74 0 0 0
Cattle 0 113 81 0 0
Domestic fowl 0 878 75 5 0
Guinea pigs 0 20 0 0 0
Rabbits 0 8 0 0 0
Sheep 0 15 0 0 0
Goats 0 82 24 0 0
Overall total 0 1467 247 5 18
% total procedures severity limit 0.0% 84.5% 14.2% 0.3% 1.0%

If you have any questions about our work, please contact us.

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