The legislation governing animal welfare in Switzerland is among the strictest in the world. Animal studies may only be carried out if no alternatives are available. Strict rules apply to the husbandry of laboratory animals and to the initial and further training of researchers who work with animals.
In Switzerland, every animal study and every instance in which laboratory animals are kept must be approved by the competent cantonal veterinary office. The application for approval must state why an animal study is needed, what benefit the study offers and the extent to which a burden is placed on the animals. The husbandry conditions for the laboratory animals must also be described in the application. Species-appropriate husbandry conditions for laboratory animals and continuous care provided by specialists are required by law. An animal welfare officer and the competent veterinary authority check regularly, and sometimes without warning, that the requirements for animal husbandry are being observed in the approved projects.
From a scientific standpoint, too, it is important for the animals to be kept under species-appropriate conditions. Only studies carried out with animals that have been optimally cared for and treated and remain as stress-free as possible under experimental conditions provide reliable results. Every institution that performs animal studies must report annually on the number of animals it has actually used, which species were used, the purpose of the studies and the extent to which the animals were exposed to stress. Researchers in Switzerland are required to keep animal studies to a minimum and to use alternative methods instead of animal models whenever possible. The 3R principles are embedded in the corresponding legislation and must be observed in all projects.
Harm-benefit analysis as the starting point
The Swiss animal welfare legislation requires a harm-benefit analysis to be performed for every animal study. For this purpose, studies are divided into four categories known as degrees of severity. The interests of all the parties concerned are taken into account in a consideration of whether the expected benefit of a study for society outweighs the stress on the animals and the harm to their dignity. The benefit for society can vary greatly, e.g. demonstration of the efficacy of new medicinal products, toxicity testing of a substance, new knowledge, better husbandry conditions for animals, etc. The benefit is usually evident in applied research. In basic research, on the other hand, it is often difficult to identify a direct benefit. But it is ultimately only possible to engage in applied research if this basis has been established.