Animals should not be used for research purposes, the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA) has said.
The animal rights organisation, which was observing World Day for Lab Animals on Thursday, said that SA needed a well regulated Animal Ethics Committee to oversee animals in research.
"The use of animals in research, teaching, and testing is not a right, but a privilege. It is incumbent upon every researcher and teacher to ensure that privilege is not abused," Esté Kotzé, NSPCA deputy CEO, told News24.
She added that increased concern for research animals in SA was changing methodologies of teaching and testing.
"Anyone wanting to use animals for research, teaching and testing needs to provide a research application to an Animal Ethics Committee in order for the application to be reviewed by a panel or committee.
"The committee must consist of a veterinarian, a scientist, an animal welfare representative and a layperson. If the research application has not been reviewed and approved by an Animal Ethics Committee, the findings cannot be published in scientific journals," said Kotzé.
Health researchers in SA are bound by the health department's Policy Framework for Ethics Approval and Endorsement of Health Research document.
It obligates scientists to conduct ethical research, as well as registering of clinical trials.
"As far as regulation goes, all use of animals, whether for teaching or education, testing, research or other uses, must undergo a stringent review process by an animal ethics committee. Only after such approval, may work be conducted," Erika Bornman, Animal Ethics Unit manager at the NSPCA, told News24.
She said that there were difficulties in ensuring compliance with regulations, as the unit was understaffed.
"The biggest challenge for us, as NSPCA Animal Ethics Unit, is having enough staff and resources to be more involved with institutions that use animals for scientific purposes, such as being able to conduct more inspections at animal research institutions."
The University of Stellenbosch's standard for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes document (SANS 10386) demands that scientists ensure that the welfare of animals is always considered and that they minimise pain and distress for animals.
"In the end, we as a society have a choice. Do we treat our fellow creatures with cruelty and insensitivity? Or with compassion, respect, and justice? As humans, we have the freedom to make that choice," said Kotzé.
Bornman argued that alternatives - such as models and simulators - could be used instead of animals.
"Basic models can contribute to the study of anatomy or facilitate the learning of good animal handling without animal stress and student anxiety."
Even schools can avoid the use of animals to teach life science lessons.
"Education is going paperless and we feel that there is no need for animals to be dissected, especially in a school classroom," said Bornman.
"There are very practical applications available that can be used for scholars, since most schools have access to iPads. We also developed our own plastic dissection rat model with removable organs that can easily replace the use of animals."
The Animal Ethics Unit represents animal welfare on 45 animal ethics committees in SA, said the NSPCA.