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Livestock animals are of high importance in bioscientific research and frequently used for agricultural, veterinary, basic, safety or translational studies [1,2]. In contrast to small laboratory animals, livestock animals are usually obtained directly from livestock production, resulting in lower homogeneity, variating animal health and hygienic status. Further challenges are the generally high requirement of personnel expertise and housing conditions, including the amount of space and pathogen infection control. Currently, comparable widely used standardized health and hygienic guidelines as well as frequently offered certificated education trainings for laboratory rodents are lacking for livestock animals used in scientific procedures. Hence, these factors may have adverse impact on animal welfare and the experimental outcome of scientific procedures.
In accordance to the legal requirement to implement the 3R principle (European Union directive 2010/63) the use of livestock animals for bioscientific research needs to define standardized guidelines and skilled educated staff members, who have the knowledge of species-specific needs, which includes among others the ability to recognize and assess pain. To overcome this dilemma we established a working group in 2015 aiming for both the refinement of farm animals in research and the reduction of the animal numbers used in experimental trials. This working group, named LaNiV*, is officially accepted as a part of the German society for laboratory animal science (GV-SOLAS) and consists of a broad scientific network including experts for livestock animals from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Currently, five work packages were developed: animal acquisition/health (WP1), housing/hygienic strategies (WP2), experimental design/procedures (WP3), disposition/tissue allocation (WP4), and education (WP5). Objectives of the WP include: WP1 and WP2 focused on identification of relevant pathogens to implement a standardized health certification scheme for animal acquisition and housing. WP3 designed definitions for assessments and recommendations of standardized anaesthetic and analgesic strategies. WP4 evaluate possibilities for animal disposition, organ- and tissue-sharing at the end of an experiment. In WP5 basic courses (according to FELASA) are in preparation and the contents of further education programmes for staff member on livestock animal trials will be defined. Additionally, international specified interdisciplinary workshops of the WP topics will be developed. Furthermore, different refinement targets, e.g. environmental enrichment strategies, will be included within prospective research projects. Until now the implementation of the 3R principle in experimental set-ups using livestock animals, is limited due to the lack of standardized protocols for animal housing, health monitoring, personnel training strategies, anaesthesia and pain relief as important refinement strategies. This may result not only in higher suffering and/or mortality rates but also affect the validity and reporting of experimental and might increase the number of animals necessary. Therefore, our expert group aims to develop recommendations, standardized guidelines and training courses for researchers working with livestock animals to improve animal welfare. Continued international networking among bioscientific researchers will ensure that these improvements will spread across the European Union.