Animal testing

Wageningen University & Research (WUR) conducts research with animals. We study animal behaviour, for example, how diseases spread among animals and the interaction between humans and animals. Part of this research falls under the Experiments on Animals Act (Wet op dierproeven, Wod), in which case we refer to it as an animal experiment.

Animal testing is and will remain necessary to meet our obligations and social contribution. We get more and more questions about sustainable food production, human and animal health and interactions with our environment that require animal experiments. And we also need animals to study alternative methods and techniques that could reduce animal testing in the future, such as using sensors to track animals in the wild. In addition, the validation and legal authorisation of alternative methods, especially in European context, is a lengthy process which sometimes prevents us from using available alternatives.

In all our research involving animals, respect for the animal and its wellbeing are leading. WUR only performs animal tests if there is a legal obligation to do so and/or if no alternative testing methods are available. In doing so, WUR makes continuous efforts to replace, reduce and refine animal testing (3Rs).

What is an animal experiment?

Research is qualified as animal testing if the animals involved suffer ‘discomfort’ as a result of the study. So not every study involving animals is an animal experiment. For example nutrition research that looks at an animal's preference for certain foods is not an animal test if it is done under normal housing conditions. However, it is an animal test if the research is conducted with dogs living separately in a kennel. If a blood sample is taken, or if the animals are killed to examine tissues or organs, it is an animal test.

Furthermore, only research involving vertebrates and squids is covered by the Experiments on Animals Act (Dutch acronym:Wod). Research on invertebrates such as bees and mosquitos is not protected under this law on animal testing.

How many and what sort of animal tests does WUR carry out?

In an annual report WUR provides insight into the number of animals used in animal experiments. It is worth noting that one animal can be used in several studies and is then counted several times. If one fish is caught four times for four different studies, so to speak, it counts as four fish. As a result, the number of animals used does not equal the number of studies conducted, nor the number of animal experiments carried out. View the subpage with figures on animal testing at WUR, including annual reports.

Which animals does Wageningen use in experiments?

Our annual reports state which types of animals have been used in animal experiments. In the vast majority of Wageningen studies, laboratory animals serve as model for the animal themselves, such as research into animal health in livestock farming or the protection of species in the wild. Fish form by far the largest category of test animals, because we monitor stocks for the government which requires catching a lot of fish. In second place are chickens, mostly because of animal welfare studies. Mice are the third largest category, often used in human health studies. View the subpage with examples of the types of animal testing at WUR.

WUR submits information on all animal experiments to the European Commission. The commision publishes information on all animal tests for which a license has been authorised in the ALURES database with easy to understand summaries (non-technical project summaries, NTS).

What is the process before an animal test can take place?

Each animal experiment requires a licence. This is granted by the Central Committee for Animal Testing (Dutch acronym:CCD). The CCD takes into account the advice of an independent Animal Testing Committee, that weighs the importance of the research against the discomfort for the animals. Moreover, as an external party, the Dutch Food and Safety Authority (Dutch acronym: NVWA) monitors all animal testing. In keeping with the animal testing legislation, WUR has an Animal Welfare Authority, that supervises everything pertaining to the testing of animals. View the subpage about the application procedure.

Route of an application for animal testing
Route of an application for animal testing

What are WUR's guidelines for animal testing?

By ratifying the VSNU transparency code for animal testing, we have committed to all non-statutory regulations. This code demands that scientific organisations commit to binding transparency and dialogue on animal testing. We collaborate towards this end with other universities and Stichting Proefdiervrij. WUR not only does what is necessary, but goes beyond that. View the subpage on WUR's ambitions and guidelines on animal testing.

How does Wageningen reduce animal testing?

In designing and conducting their research, WUR-researchers follow the three Rs that the law demands: replacing, reducing and refining. This means that researchers always check whether they can obtain the same results without animals, or with fewer animals and how discomfort for the animals can be diminished and their wellbeing improved.

  1. Replacing animal testing with alternative measures such as in vitro testing, computer modelling, tissue culture or testing on eggs
  2. Reducing the number of test animals, for example by investing extra time in preliminary research and improved animal models
  3. Refining, by improving animal welfare, such as providing the animals with enough room to exhibit their natural behaviour, offering toys and materials against boredom, and housing social animals in groups or performing measurements from a distance

How does WUR deal with animal testing in education?

Graduates may be required to conduct animal tests in the course of their careers. WUR therefore believes it has a duty to teach students about responsible animal testing and the ethical aspects associated with it. Any students who are opposed to animal tests on ethical grounds or who do not wish to use materials taken from animals during practical sessions can arrange their studies accordingly.

Can laboratory animals be ‘rehomed’?

‘Rehoming’ is permitted under certain conditions. WUR follows the Code of Practice drawn up by the Netherlands National Committee for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Cats that are kept at WUR for behaviour and food research are, for example, ‘retire’ after seven years. Then an adoption process is initiated and a good match is sought with a new owner.