Oct. 3, 2000 -- Responding to a lawsuit by animal rightsactivists, the Agriculture Department has agreed to expand itsregulation of research animals to include rats, mice and birds.
Research groups say the additional paperwork that USDA wouldrequire will cost biomedical laboratories $80 million to $90million, money now going into scientific studies. The departmentreached the agreement in an out-of-court settlement that has yet tobe approved by a federal judge.
USDA’s regulations under the Animal Welfare Act are now limitedto larger animals, such as chimpanzees, cats and guinea pigs.
Hailed as Animals Rights Victory
“This is a significant victory for animals,” said Tina Nelson,executive director of the American Anti-Vivisection Society, ananimal rights group. “The more than 90 percent of animals used inlaboratories who currently have no legal protection could now becovered by federal law.”
USDA spokesman Andy Solomon said the proposed settlement was“prudent and responsible.” Once the settlement is approved, thedepartment will propose rules for regulating rodents and birds, andboth animal rights activists and researchers will have a chance tocomment on them, he said.
Scientists who oppose the move by the department say that mice,rats and birds already are sufficiently protected because of muchof the research is done under grants from government healthagencies that have animal-care standards.
“From our point of view we don’t see the value of duplicateregulations that are very expensive, that are not going to improveanimal welfare, especially when this agency doesn’t have theresources to do what they are properly doing now,” said BarbaraRich, executive vice president for the National Association forBiomedical Research.
More Documentation Required
The department is likely to require labs to report the number ofanimals they are using and categorize the type of pain and distressthat they are under, Rich said today. Research institutions alsocould be required to consider alternatives to animals for research,such as computer simulations.
“If you’re maintaining good standards of husbandry for animalsand keeping good records you’ll see little impact,” said JohnMcArdle, director of the Alternatives Research and DevelopmentFoundation, which brought the lawsuit.
Rich’s group estimates that there are 23 million rodents beingused for research in medical schools, pharmaceutical companies andother laboratories.
Distress Factor on Horizon
Research groups already were concerned about a USDA plan totighten its classification system for pain and distress in animals.
The department is proposing to add a definition of distress toits regulations. Distress would be considered a state “in which ananimal cannot escape from or adapt to the internal or externalstressors or conditions it experiences, resulting in negativeeffects on its well-being.” Critics of the definition say it istoo vague.