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Science, Medicine, and Animals
Welfare Act (AWA), has been amended four times (1970, 1976, 1985, and 1991), each time elevating the standard of animal care. The amendment of 1985 was the most extensive and had two very significant results. First, an Animal Welfare Information Center (www.nal.usda.gov/awic) was established to provide researchers with a database of alternatives to painful animal experiments. Second, each research facility in the United States using protected species must register with the USDA and establish an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to review all experimental protocols involving live, warm-blooded animals. Similar committees had already existed to monitor clinical trials. The 1985 amendment to the AWA now extended the same careful review to research on animals.
A quirk of the AWA, however, is the fact that it does not cover the most common species of laboratory animals, namely rats, mice, and birds. In passing the AWA, Congress left the definition of “animal” (that is, which species would be protected by the AWA) to the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture, who opted not to include these species, primarily because the USDA has not had the resources to inspect all of these facilities. Despite numerous efforts by the animal protection community to change the AWA to include rats, mice, and birds, an amendment was recently passed by Congress to permanently exclude rats, mice, and birds used in research from coverage by the Animal Welfare Act. It should be noted, however, that these species are protected under Public Health Service Policy, though this oversight applies only to those research facilities that receive federal funding. There are institutions, for example some private companies and small teaching colleges, which only use rats, mice, and birds that are not subject to the AWA or Public Health Service Policy.