Rules & Laws
Animal rights groups grossly exaggerate the number of animals used in research. They claim the majority of research animals are primates and stolen pets. Yet 90 percent or more of the animals used in research each year are mice, rats, and other rodents bred for research; cats, dogs, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, primates, and other animals collectively make up the remaining 10 percent. On the other hand, millions of our pets end up in animal shelters and are killed each year because they are senselessly abandoned by their owners.
Animal rights groups attempt to portray researchers as “mad scientists” who work with no supervision or control. But stringent controls are in place by the government through the Animal Welfare Act and its amendments, now in place for more than 35 years. Research laboratories where animals are used must meet strict federal, state and local requirements. Federal regulators routinely inspect laboratories to ensure that animals are adequately housed and cared for. In addition, many laboratories submit to additional voluntary inspection for accreditation through the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International (AAALAC).
Some early research unfortunately did not consider the welfare of the animals—they only wanted to find ways to treat humans as quickly as possible. We have developed laws and procedures, though, to ensure their protection today.
3Rs: Replacement, Refinement, Reduction
Alternatives must be considered for every experiment that involves even potentially painful procedures in animals. Can we alter the experiment to reduce the pain or distress? Can we use fewer animals? Can the experiment be done without animals? This is the concept of the 3 Rs—reducing the number of animals used, refining our techniques to reduce pain and distress, and replacing animal experiments with those that do not require animals. There are alternatives to potentially painful procedures in animal research that, under the right circumstances, can be used. Cell cultures and computer-generated models and simulations can sometimes give researchers the information they need. Pain can be reduced or controlled by the use of anesthesia and analgesia as well as through training of animal handlers. Finally, the number of animals needed can be reduced by improving the model system so that fewer animals are required to produce accurate results. Before initiating a study, researchers must search the literature to make sure they’re not duplicating a past experiment. They must also consider the above alternatives when constructing their study.
Regulations to Ensure Animal Welfare
Animals used in research are covered by several laws and regulations:
- 28-Hour Law (1873)
- Animal Welfare Act (1966)
- Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
- Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care
- State Certification for Animal Research (AAALAC)
- Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC)
- US Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals
- ILAR Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
- AVMA Panel Report on Euthanasia
- Good Laboratory Practices Act
- Health Research Extension Act
These laws and regulations came to pass to protect research animals from mistreatment, and apply to all animals used in research. Facilities are monitored, frequently by surprise inspection. Veterinarians serve as advocates for the animals, and are involved in animal research during every step of research projects. There are committees at institutions conducting research that monitor what is done for and to the animals. There are even committee members from the community who have no vested interest in the research who also act as advocates for the animals as well as humans.