Animal welfare

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is committed to ensuring the highest standards of animal welfare through the research we fund. BBSRC invests in world-class research that aims to better understand what conditions best foster good welfare for all managed animals. We also invest in research involving the use of animals as an experimental tool, for instance, to understand biological processes, adhering to the UK’s stringent regulations and promoting best practice.

Why support animal welfare?

Providing the best welfare for animals requires a clear, scientific understanding of the animals’ requirements from both a physical and social standpoint. Consideration of animals’ mental as well as physical wellbeing has been growing steadily and BBSRC research has contributed to this growing knowledge.

The implications of animal welfare are far-reaching, holding significant economic importance through its impact on both animal and human health. Low levels of animal welfare reduce production and contribute to conditions such as mastitis or lameness, which are in themselves a welfare concern, both of which can be costly.

BBSRC funds world-class animal welfare research

The UK holds a world-leading position for excellent standards of animal welfare. BBSRC is the major UK funder of research to improve the health and welfare of managed animals and is actively engaging with European partners to promote animal welfare research that focuses on the identification of welfare indicators, threats to animal welfare such as infectious diseases, as well as new tools and technologies to improve the welfare of managed animals (including farmed, companion and laboratory animals).

Developments in how we measure welfare are helping us to understand and implement practical policies that will continue to inspire confidence in the quality of UK farm products. From gait analysis in broiler chicken farming to early-life studies looking at long-term health and welfare implications on farm animals, the UK’s research community is helping to continually improve our already rigorous standards.

BBSRC invested £5.9 million towards animal welfare research in 2014-2015. Building on an £8 million Animal Welfare programme (2005-2010) that focused on research to better understand the science of animal welfare and accurately identify factors that can improve (or reduce) an animal’s quality of life.

Examples of BBSRC-funded welfare:

  • scientists using trackers on cows to develop early warning system for illness – wireless tracking sensors to monitor the health of a herd of dairy cows are being developed by BBSRC-funded researchers in Writtle College and the University of Essex with the aim of developing an early warning system for conditions such as lameness and mastitis
  • understanding animals, improving welfare – gait scoring, whereby chickens are scored on a rank scale for how well they are able to walk, is one of the main methods used to measure welfare in live chickens. But this relies on a subjective measurement, is labour intensive and provides only a snapshot of welfare at a particular point in time. Researchers at the University of Oxford have developed an automated system which uses web cameras or CCTV to monitor welfare across an entire flock
  • new methods for monitoring and improving the welfare of laboratory dogs – researchers from the University of Stirling, working alongside a major pharmaceutical company, are investigating the best ways to measure and record dogs’ health to ensure that high levels of welfare are maintained in research settings.

UK Animal Welfare Research Network

BBSRC has pledged £100,000 to establish the UK Animal Welfare Research Network (AWRN) to help foster multidisciplinary collaboration within the UK animal welfare research community. The network will provide a forum to add benefit to animal welfare research by creating links between animal welfare researchers and the broader academic community and would include contributions from government, academics, industry bodies, charities and veterinarians.

BBSRC promotes animal welfare in experimental animals

In order to carry out animal research in the UK, researchers must demonstrate that they have considered the ‘3Rs’ in the design of their experiments, and this is a condition of BBSRC grant awards, and is considered as part of the peer review process.

The ‘3Rs’ are:

  • Replacement – refers to methods that avoid or replace the use of animals in an area where they would otherwise have been used
  • Refinement – refers to improvements to scientific procedures and husbandry which minimise actual or potential pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm or improve animal welfare in situations where the use of animals is unavoidable
  • Reduction – refers to methods which minimise animal use and enable researchers to obtain comparable levels of information from fewer animals or to obtain more information from the same number of animals, thereby reducing the future use of animals.

BBSRC is also a major investor in the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) to encourage more research in the field of measures and assessment of animal welfare, as applied to laboratory animals, livestock species, and companion animals.

Safeguarding animal welfare in the lab

Biological and biomedical research using animals has contributed enormously and uniquely to advances in human and veterinary medicine and treatments, and in understanding fundamental, yet complex, processes that underpin wellbeing in humans and other animals.

Despite significant progress in recent years to reduce the numbers of animals needed in individual experiments and to replace animals with alternatives, there are still areas of research in which the use of animals remains essential:

  • you must provide sound scientific justification in your funding application for the use of animals
  • you must have given due consideration to the replacement, refinement or reduction of the animals used in the experiment and there must be no viable non-animal alternatives
  • the research must be carried out in full compliance with current legislation



Last updated: 17 August 2023

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