All animals in NSW are protected by the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 (NSW). This Act (known as POCTAA) applies to all people in NSW at all times and deals with the cruel and unconscionable treatment of all animals.
In addition, animals used in teaching or research of any kind in NSW, are protected by special legislation, the Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW). This Act was introduced to ensure that whenever animals are used for teaching or research, it is justified, humane and considerate of the animal’s needs. The Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW) provides for a system of accreditation, licensing and authorisation for organisations and individuals that use animals for educational purposes. It covers the use of animals in all primary or secondary schools, government or non-government.
The Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW) requires that all schools are accredited with the Department of Primary Industries as animal research institutions and have access to an animal ethics committee. This accreditation is managed through each of the three school sectors, NSW Department of Education, Catholic Schools NSW and the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AIS). The school sectors have established the Schools Animal Care and Ethics Committee (SACEC) in order to comply with the Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW) and to monitor the use of animals for teaching and research purposes in their schools.
It is important that teachers who use animals in schools keep abreast of the ongoing ethical debate and community expectations about the use of animals in research and teaching and the consequent changes that occur from time to time in the relevant legislation.
Teachers need to understand that even normal husbandry activities are covered by the Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW) when they are carried out for the purpose of demonstrating or teaching techniques or as part of a research project even though many of these activities differ little from normal procedures conducted in commercial livestock enterprises or in the routine care of a household pet.
The Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW) has established the Animal Research Review Panel (ARRP) as the central body responsible for overseeing the overall operation of the legislation and the development of policy recommendations. ARRP routinely inspects the SACEC to ensure that it is complying with the legislation.
Because the most common use of animals in schools is for teaching and demonstration rather than research, schools have been recognised as a special case under the Animal Research Act 1985 (NSW). Teachers in schools supervised by the SACEC have special privileges relating to the use of animals for teaching and research not accorded to others. This underpins the system of Approved Activities that teachers must comply with.