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Animals in Science Fairs

001_mouseinboxIf you’re involved in a science fair where some students are considering using animals in their research, you should be aware of the international rules and guidelines prepared by the Society for Science & the Public (SSP).

The International Rules for Precollege Science Research: Guidelines for Science and Engineering Fairs are written to provide guidance to any pre-college student (K-12) doing independent research. It is a requirement of SSP-affiliated fairs that the students competing in its fair will abide by these rules. It is strongly recommended that the International Rules be followed by all students doing independent research, regardless of grade level.

SSP has developed comprehensive rules for the use of vertebrate animals to help pre-college student researchers adhere to the federal regulations governing professional scientists and thereby protect the welfare of both animal subjects and the student researcher. When students conduct research with animal subjects, the health and well-being of the animal subjects must be considered.

There are some different rules that may apply depending on the location of the project – i.e., whether or not a project is conducted at a post-secondary institution or regulated research facility. Research projects that are conducted at a school, farm, home, in the field, etc. are considered non-regulated research sites. Such projects involve agricultural, behavioural, observational or supplemental nutritional studies on animals and utilize only non-invasive and nonintrusive methods that do not negatively affect an animal’s health or well-being.

Such projects include:

  • Studies involving animals in their natural environment
  • Studies involving animals in zoological parks
  • Studies involving livestock that use standard agricultural practices.

Key points of the rules for non-regulated sites are noted below.  View the complete rules.

Prior Approval

A Scientific Review Committee (SRC) and/or an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) must approve all research before experimentation begins. (An IACUC is the review and approval body at a regulated research institution for all animal studies.) The research plan for vertebrate animal studies must include the following:

Justify why animals must be used, including the reasons for the choice of species and the number of animals to be used. Describe any alternatives to animal use that were considered, and the reasons these alternatives were unacceptable. Explain the potential impact or contribution this research may have on the broad fields of biology or medicine.

Describe in detail, how the animals will be used. Include methods and procedures, such as experimental design and data analysis. Describe the procedures that will minimize the potential for discomfort, distress, pain and injury to the animals during the course of experimentation. Identify the species, strain, sex, age, weight, source and number of animals proposed for use.

The Scientific Review Committee must determine when a veterinarian is required to certify that the research plan and animal husbandry are appropriate. This certification is required before experimentation and the prior SRC approval. It is highly recommended that a veterinarian be consulted in experiments that involve supplemental nutrition and/or activities that would not be ordinarily encountered in the animal’s daily life.

No prior SRC approval is required for behavioural observations if there is no interaction with the animals, no manipulation of the environment and all local and national laws are followed.

Prohibited Activities

Research projects which cause more than momentary pain or suffering to vertebrate animals or which are designed to kill vertebrate animals are prohibited. Humane euthanasia is permitted under certain conditions when the research is conducted at a regulated research institution.

Other prohibited activities include:

  • All induced toxicity studies involving a poison or toxin that could impair health or destroy life, including alcohol, acid rain, insecticide, herbicide, or heavy metals;
  • Behavioural experiments involving operant conditioning with aversive stimuli, mother/infant separation or induced helplessness;
  • Studies of pain;
  • Predator/vertebrate prey experiments.

Feeding & Animal Health

If an experimental design requires food or water restriction, it must be appropriate to the species, but may not exceed 18 hours.

Because weight loss is one significant sign of stress, the maximum permissible weight loss or growth retardation (compared to controls) of any experimental or control animal is 15%.

If an unexpected illness or emergency occurs, the affected animals must have proper medical and nursing care that is directed by a veterinarian. A student researcher is expected to stop experimentation if there is significant weight loss or death in the experimental subjects. The experiment can only be resumed if the cause of illness or death is not related to the experimental procedures and if appropriate steps are taken to eliminate the causal factors.

Supervision and Animal Care

SSP regulations require animals to be treated kindly and cared for properly.

Animals must be treated kindly and cared for properly. Animals must be housed in a clean, ventilated, comfortable environment compatible with the standards and requirements appropriate for the species used. They must be given a continuous, clean (uncontaminated) water and food supply. Cages, pens and fish tanks must be cleaned frequently. Proper care must be provided at all times including weekends, holidays, and vacation periods. Animals must be observed daily to assess their health and well-being. A Designated Supervisor is required to oversee the daily husbandry of the animals.

Procurement and Disposition of Animals

Animals may not be captured from or released into the wild without approval of authorized wildlife or other regulatory officials. Fish may be obtained from the wild only if the researcher releases the fish unharmed, has the proper license, and adheres to state and local fishing laws and regulations.

The final disposition of the animals must be considered and explained in the research plan. Euthanasia for tissue removal and/or pathological analysis is not permitted for a project conducted in a non-regulated site.

Rules Wizard

If all these rules seem overwhelming, the Society for Science & the Public has developed a rules wizard to guide you and your students through the rules. By following these rules, you’ll know that animals will be cared for and students will learn humane ways of treating animals in research.