How Do Laws and Regulations Govern the Use and Care of Animals?
Animal experiments are subject to a wide variety of overlapping laws, regulations, and guidelines. At the federal level, the Animal Welfare Act was passed in 1966 and has been amended several times since then. It sets standards for handling, housing, transportation, feeding, veterinary care, and use of pain-relieving drugs in dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, marine mammals, and horses and other farm animals used in nonagricultural research. Originally designed to prevent the theft of dogs and cats, its focus has shifted progressively toward safeguarding the welfare of laboratory animals. For instance, it requires that investigators consider alternative methods that do not involve animals and that investigators first consult with a veterinarian experienced in laboratory animal care before beginning any experiment that might cause pain. Unannounced inspections are made by federal employees to ensure compliance with the Act.
The other major federal law governing animal research is the Health Research Extension Act of 1985, which transformed into law many of the provisions contained in the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. This policy requires compliance with a number of other laws, regulations, and guidelines, including the Animal Welfare Act, and establishes procedures that researchers must follow to assure the government that they are in compliance. It applies to investigators funded by the Public Health Service, which includes the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the
Centers for Disease Control, and the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration. These investigators account for about half of the biomedical research done in the United States.
Through the combination of the Animal Welfare Act and the Health Research Extension Act, virtually all animal researchers are now under the oversight of a local review committee known as an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. These committees always include a veterinarian experienced in laboratory animal care and at least one person not affiliated with the institution to represent the interests of the community. The committees inspect animal research areas at least twice each year, make sure that the various sets of guidelines and regulations are followed, and review the design of proposed experiments to ensure that any animals will be used humanely.
Within the scientific community, professional societies and scientific organizations have for many decades prepared various sets of guidelines that govern the use of animals. The one most widely used now is the National Research Council's Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, which was first released in 1963.29 The Guide deals with the logistics of animal experimentation, such as cage size, the use of anesthetics, and the review of proposed experiments, and with the institutional monitoring of animal use and care.
Facilities that use animals in research or testing can also be accredited by the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). Using the Animal Welfare Act, the Guide, and other statements of principles, AAALAC requires adherence to high standards of animal care and use before granting accreditation. All research institutions funded by the Public Health Service must file a letter of assurance that all animal care and use standards are being met and maintained.
A number of other entities have also established laws, regulations, and guidelines that animal researchers must follow. Every state and many localities have laws about animal cruelty. Professional societies have set up guidelines to be followed by their members. And many scientific journals require compliance with sets of principles as a prerequisite for publication.
The many laws, regulations, and guidelines that govern animal care and use serve a valuable purpose by setting standards about the use of animals and by providing public accountability. But some laws and regulations have served more to impede animal research than to improve the well-being of laboratory animals. By making animal research more costly and difficult, these rules lessen the amount of productive work that can be done.