INRAE: an institute with an ethical approach to animal experimentation

Historically, animal-based research has served a variety of crucial functions: it has allowed us to improve human and animal health; to explore questions in the fundamental and agricultural sciences; and to preserve biodiversity and the environment. However, we have a responsibility to constantly assess whether such uses are ethical, and we must continue to seek alternatives. Like all French research institutes, INRAE rigorously applies the country’s strict requirements related to animal experimentation, which are based on European regulations. INRAE also collaborates with other institutes to explore the issue of animal-based research and is helping create a national centre for animal experimentation, modelled after centres in various other European countries.

Transparency around animal experimentation

Research institutes have an obligation to provide the general public with clear, comprehensive information as to how and why animal research is being employed.

Indeed, all experimental facilities approved for animal research must submit an annual report to a European database in which they detail their project objectives and the species-specific numbers of animals they have used. The statistics for France are published on the official website of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation (MESRI).

In addition, non-technical summaries of all animal-based research projects are shared with the general public.

Furthermore, in November 2020, a transparency charter was signed by several public and private research establishments, all members of the French Interprofessional Group on Research Reflection and Communication (GIRCOR). INRAE was among the signatories, who pledged to provide information to and engage in exchanges with the general public.

French Transparency Charter on the use of animals for scientific and regulatory purposes pdf - 461.02 KB

The 3Rs: guiding principles for French and European regulations

French and European regulations on animal experimentation are based on the 3Rs for humane animal research: REPLACE, REDUCE, and REFINE


 REPLACE animal models with alternative approaches:

  • in silico techniques such as computer modelling or deep learning
  • in vitro techniques such as cell cultures or organoids

Read the article [in French] about the book Alternatives à l’expérimentation animale, published in 2020 by Editions QUAE.



REDUCE the number of animals to the bare minimum needed to obtain reliable results by using alternatives, such as statistical studies, meta-analyses, and past research (even if unpublished).

REFINE research and knowledge that can help improve animal welfare and decrease animal pain and stress.

A 4th "R", REHABILITATE, is currently being developed: physical condition permitting, animals should be rehomed to trustworthy facilities after experiments have ended.



Animal models at INRAE

INRAE uses a wide variety of animal species to address scientific questions:

Model animals are used in fundamental research, which seeks to clarify biological mechanisms. Common model animals include fish (e.g., zebrafish and medaka), mini pigs, rabbits, and rodents (e.g., mice and rats). In France, mice are the most frequently used model animal (62% of animal research). Next come fish (13%, all species combined), followed by rats (8%) and rabbits (7%) (French National Statistics, 2018).

Farm animals are used in research on agriculture and animal health, employing a One Health approach. The main topics of study are reproduction and genetics; animal nutrition, behaviour, and welfare; and agro-ecological farming. Common farm animals include cattle, goats, sheep, horses, rabbits, birds (e.g., chickens, turkeys, quails, and ducks), fish (mainly trout), and pigs.

Research may also be performed on captive and non-captive wild animals, including badgers, deer, frogs, and fish to explore issues related to biodiversity, environmental conservation, and wildlife conservation.

Examples of research using animal models

Mouse model: low levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids can induce imbalance in the brain reward system, resulting in conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorders (learn more here).

In vitro model employing medaka cells: discovery of a new cell function in fish that holds promise for aquaculture and medical research (learn more here).   


In vitro model employing ewe oocytes: environmental doses of bisphenol S, used as a replacement for bisphenol A, alter the developmental capacities of oocytes and embryos in ewes (learn more here).

Mini pig model: in obese animals, a decreased ability to sense blood glucose levels may contribute to the development of type II diabetes, a result obtained using non-invasive imaging (learn more here).

INRAE research on animal welfare

INRAE carries out extensive research on animal behaviour and farm animal welfare. The institute has produced joint scientific reports on animal pain and animal consciousness.

As a result of this work, we better understand emotional responses and pain perception in animals, knowledge that can inform future work in the field of animal experimentation. INRAE is also currently leading an assessment of animal welfare in farmed species.

Furthermore, INRAE is head of the French Reference Centre for Animal Welfare (CNR BEA). CNR BEA has been tasked with disseminating well-supported scientific and technical information on animal welfare, producing joint scientific reports on the subject, and identifying gaps in training.