Animal Ethics Committee

The Animal Ethics Committee (AEC) is responsible for assessing, approving and monitoring, as required under the NSW Animal Research Act 1985 on behalf of the Environment Agency Head, all animal research and education activities carried out by Department staff.

These terms of reference establish the responsibilities, institutional accountability, reporting mechanisms, and membership (criteria, terms and conditions) of the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (the department) Animal Ethics Committee (the committee).

The committee is established under Part 3 of the NSW Animal Research Act 1985 (AR Act) and in accordance with the Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes (National Health and Medical Research Council 2013) (the code). The operation of animal ethics committees is also guided by Animal Research Review Panel policies.

Purpose of the committee

The committee is established to ensure that all animal care and use for research and education within the department is conducted in compliance with the AR Act, Animal Research Regulation 2010 (the regulation) and the code. Under the AR Act s3, an animal means a vertebrate animal, and includes a mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and fish, but does not include a human being. Animal research is defined in section 3 of the AR Act.

A. Role and responsibilities of the committee

The committee is responsible for:

  1. Approving the capture, production, acquisition, supply, handling, transport, housing, care, use and disposal of animals used by departmental employees in animal research and teaching activities.
  2. Recommending to the department measures to ensure that the governing principles and standards of the code are maintained for all animal research, teaching and supply activities carried out by departmental employees.
  3. Receiving and examining written proposals for the use of animals in research and teaching activities that are submitted to the committee.
  4. Approving, approving subject to special conditions/instructions/modifications, or rejecting, written proposals submitted to the committee for the use of animals in research, teaching and supply activities.
  5. Recommending that an Animal Research Authority be issued to departmental employees (and/or others as specified in an application to the committee) on behalf of the department for up to 12-months to carry out animal research, teaching or supply activities if the committee considers that use of animals is essential and justified and conform to the requirements of the code, taking into consideration ethical and welfare aspects as well as scientific, conservation or educational value.
  6. Inspecting facilities and locations where animal research, education or supply activities approved by the committee are conducted and associated records of those activities.
  7. Observing procedures involving animals used in research, teaching or supply activities approved by the committee, when appropriate.
  8. Assessing reports about adverse events occurring during animal research, education or supply activities approved by the committee and ensuring that appropriate action is taken to mitigate future risk to animal welfare.
  9. Granting approval, in advance, for the immediate use of animals, if required, for the diagnosis of unexplained and severe disease outbreaks, or morbidity/mortality in animals or people.
  10. Suspending or cancelling an Animal Research Authority issued on behalf of the department if the committee considers that suspension or cancellation is necessary to protect animal welfare.
  11. Authorising veterinary treatment or humane killing of any animal used in research, teaching or supply activities approved by the committee if the committee considers such action necessary to protect animal welfare.
  12. Examining and commenting on departmental plans, policies and procedures which may affect the welfare of animals involved in departmental research, teaching and supply activities, and other plans, policies and procedures involving animals at the discretion of the department and the committee.
  13. Developing, contributing to, commenting on, approving, reviewing and updating guidelines involving the use of animals in research, teaching and supply.
  14. Notifying the department in accordance with the relevant institutional policy, if the committee has reasonable grounds to believe that a departmental employee or other person named on a departmental Animal Research Authority is in breach of the Act, regulation or code.
  15. Submitting an annual report on the business of the committee to the secretary (or other by delegation).
  16. At the discretion of the department, examining, approving, approving subject to special conditions/instructions/modifications, or rejecting, proposals from independent researchers or other establishments to carry out research, teaching or supply activities involving animals.
  17. Performing all other duties as established by the code.

B. Composition of the committee

  1. The secretary of the department (or other by delegation) will appoint members to the committee ensuring that:
    • the appointment process is transparent, impartial and appropriate to each category of membership
    • qualifications of members are suitable for their categories of membership
    • the committee has the expertise and diversity to enable it to properly assess research or teaching proposals and to make informed decisions
    • animal welfare and community perspectives are adequately represented
    • there are separate members for each of the categories A to D and that members are not appointed to more than one category
    • categories C and D must together represent at least one-third of the committee's membership.
  2. The secretary (or other by delegation) will appoint members who meet the specified criteria to each of the following categories:

    Category A – at least one person with qualifications in veterinary science that are recognised for registration as a veterinary surgeon in New South Wales, Australia, and with experience relevant to the department's activities (i.e. wildlife research) or the ability to acquire relevant knowledge.

    Category B – at least one suitably qualified person, with substantial and recent experience (i.e. within the last 5 years) in the use of animals for scientific purposes relevant to the department and the business of the committee (i.e. wildlife research). This must include possession of a higher degree in wildlife research or demonstrated equivalent experience.

    Category C – at least one person with demonstrable commitment to, and established experience in, furthering the welfare of animals, who is not employed by or otherwise associated with the department, and who is not currently involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. Veterinarians with specific animal welfare interest and experience may meet the requirements of this category. While not representing an animal welfare organisation, the person should, where possible, be selected based on active membership of, and endorsement by, such an organisation.

    Category D – at least one person who is not employed by or otherwise associated with the department and who has never been involved in the use of animals in scientific or teaching activities, either in their employment or beyond their undergraduate education. Category D members should be viewed by the wider community as bringing a completely independent view to the committee and must not fit the requirements of any other category.

  3. A chairperson must be appointed by the secretary (or other by delegation). This is addition to the categories above. This person should hold a senior position in the department who is independent of the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. If the chairperson is an external appointee, the department will ensure the chairperson has the necessary support and authority to carry out the role effectively.

C. Responsibilities of the chairperson

  1. The chairperson is responsible for impartially guiding the operation of the committee, resolving conflicts of interest related to the business of the committee, and representing the committee in any negotiations with the department.
  2. The chairperson is responsible for ensuring that the committee operates in accordance with the principles and requirements of relevant legislation, the code, relevant policies of the department and committee procedures.
  3. The chairperson will preside at meetings of the committee or, in the absence of the chairperson, another member will be elected as chairperson for that meeting by the attending members.
  4. The chairperson may recommend to the Secretary (or other by delegation) the appointment or termination of appointment of committee members.
  5. The chairperson must meet at least annually with the secretary (or other by delegation) to review the operation of the committee and consider the annual report of the committee.

D. Additional members

  1. The secretary (or other by delegation) may appoint additional members with skills and background of value to assist the effective functioning of the committee. These members are appointed to category 'other'.
  2. Alternative members to attend when other members are unavailable will not be appointed.

E. Quorum

  1. A quorum for a meeting of the committee comprises at least one member from each category of membership (A, B, C and D)
  2. Categories C and D members must comprise at least one-third of a quorum of the committee.
  3. Members appointed to category 'other' are counted in the quorum in addition to categories A to D.
  4. Each member attending a meeting of the committee has equal participation and voting rights in decisions of the committee.

F. Decision-making

  1. Decision should be made by consensus of the members present at a quorate meeting of the committee.
  2. If consensus cannot be reached, a majority vote will be taken with reason for dissension recorded (chairperson will not have the casting vote).
  3. The chairperson does not have a casting vote in decisions of the committee.
  4. Members may not nominate a proxy to vote on decisions or act on their behalf.
  5. In limited circumstances as permitted by the code and using mechanisms as agreed by the committee, quorate decisions may be made out of session for ratification at the next committee meeting.
  6. Members may, for any reason, choose to abstain from voting on a matter under consideration by the committee.

G. Terms and conditions of appointment

  1. Appointment of members by the secretary (or other by delegation) is subject to assessment by the Animal Research Review Panel and approval of the Secretary, Regional NSW via the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
  2. Members (other than the chairperson) will be appointed by the secretary (or other by delegation) for a term of 3 years.
  3. Membership for non-departmental employees (other than the chairperson) is restricted to 2 consecutive terms with reappointment of former members only after an absence of at least 3 years.
  4. Membership for departmental employees (other than the chairperson) is restricted to one term of 3 years.
  5. The chairperson's term of office is determined by the secretary (or other by delegation).
  6. Members must notify the committee's chairperson or executive officer in writing as soon as possible of any changes to their circumstances which may reasonably conflict with the appointment criteria specified for their membership category.
  7. As appointees of the secretary (or other by delegation), members must adhere to the department's Code of Ethics and Conduct and the department's Board and Committee Code of Conduct (which will be provided to each member by the department).
  8. Before commencing their term of appointment, members must acknowledge in writing their acceptance of the committee's terms of reference and operating procedures, and any confidentiality or other requirements of the department.
  9. Members must conduct themselves ethically and with due diligence, maintaining confidentiality of all departmental and committee business including application content, deliberations and decisions, meeting proceedings and any other matters that arise during the committee's work.
  10. At the earliest opportunity, members must declare to the chairperson or executive officer any real or perceived financial, professional or personal interest in any matter under consideration by the committee.
  11. Members must actively participate in the work of the committee and be familiar with the code, NSW animal research and welfare legislation, relevant guidelines and any other resources that reasonably informs their decision-making. (Relevant links and documents will be provided to each member by the department).
  12. To facilitate active participation in the work of the committee, members are responsible for ensuring their access to the technology required to view electronic meeting papers, respond promptly on out of session business and participate fully in committee meetings held by telephone, video or web conferencing.
  13. Non-departmental members are entitled to be reimbursed legitimate travel, accommodation and meal expenses in accordance with the committee's Standard Operating Procedures.

H. Secretariat

The department will provide secretariat functions for the committee.

I. Standard Operating Procedures for the committee

Further detail on the operating of the committee is contained in the Animal Ethics Committee Standard Operating Procedures which are provided by the department to each member.

J. Terms of reference review and approval

  1. The terms of reference will be approved by the secretary (or other by delegation).
  2. The terms of reference will be reviewed every 3 years or sooner if necessary, to accommodate changes in legislation or agency requirements.