Your Right to Know: Understanding Animal Experiments in Your Community

The Physicians Committee
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Your Right to Know: Understanding Animal Experiments in Your Community

Selecting a Facility or Experiment

Animals in Education

Collecting Information

Bringing in the Law

Publicly Available Information

In Conclusion

To speak knowledgeably about research in your community, you need the facts. Your taxes and contributions to foundations support the overwhelming majority of these experiments, and you have a right to information about them. This booklet will help you learn who is conducting research, what previous research they have done, the source and amount of funding, relevant animal welfare laws and guidelines, how to review federal inspection reports from laboratories, and more.

Selecting an Appropriate Facility or Experiment

Animal experiments are conducted at private laboratories, universities, government institutions, high schools, and other facilities. You may not be able to learn about all of them with equal ease. Evaluate your goals and concerns. Are violations of federal or local law probable? Are large numbers of animals involved? Are they subjected to painful or blatantly useless experiments?

Most research institutions that use animals are required to be registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Facilities using only mice, rats, birds, or cold-blooded animals are not required to register, because the USDA has specifically excluded these animals from coverage under the Animal Welfare Act. Registered facilities are listed in the USDA publication, Animal Welfare: List of Registered Research Facilities. To order, contact:

Animal Care
USDA/APHIS

4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737
Phone: 301-734-7833
ace@usda.gov
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/efoia/index.shtml

If ordering online, visit the above Web address and select "Inspection Reports and License and Registration List." This site also allows access to lists of registered animal dealers, exhibitors, and handlers under the same area.

Collecting Information

Animal Care Laws and Guidelines

You may wish to familiarize yourself with the laws concerning animal use in laboratories, policies on the use of animals from shelters (pound seizure laws), and local anti-cruelty statutes. Local and state laws can be found in your public library or law library or visit here The Animal Welfare Act is a federal law that sets minimum standards for the care and use of animals in laboratories. For a free copy, contact the address below or visit here

USDA/APHIS/AC
4700 River Road, Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
E-mail: ace@aphis.usda.gov
Phone: (301) 851-3751
Fax: (301) 734-4978
http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/efoia/index.shtml 

To receive additional Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) documents, including lists on numbers of "reportable" animals used in research, go to http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/efoia/index.shtml.

The NIH Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and The Public Health Service Policy are two publications which provide guidelines for care of animals in laboratories. For a copy of The NIH Guide, contact:

The National Academies Press
500 Fifth Street N.W.
Keck 360
Washington, DC 20001
Fax (202) 334-2451
If you choose to fax your purchase order, it is not necessary to mail the original.
customer_service@nap.edu

The Public Health Service Policy can be accessed online here http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/references/phspolicylabanimals.pdf.

Each USDA-registered facility is required to form its own Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to review proposed animal experiments and determine whether they conform to federal law and the NIH guidelines. IACUC meetings may or may not be open to the public. If the meetings are closed, find out whether it is by state law or by institutional policy. Some states have "sunshine laws" which require that the meetings be open to the public. Topics discussed include the kinds of species being used, their sources (shelters, breeding facilities, etc.), the nature of the experiments, and the opinions of fellow researchers.

Publicly Available Information

NIH's RePORTER

The Public Health Service (PHS), which includes the National Institutes of Health, is a major source of federal research monies. Information on PHS-funded experiments can be obtained by requesting a NIH report. This information is more current than the USDA and NIH grant reports, due to a much shorter time lag between filing and publication. The information includes the amount of the grant award, the researcher's name and address, the abstract of the experiment, and the types of animals used.

Your request may be based on the site and year of the research, researchers' names, research with a particular type of animal, a description of the experiment, or the animals used by a particular researcher. You can obtain research abstracts even if you only know the location of the laboratory. To access NIH’s RePORTER , go to https://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm

The Freedom of Information Act

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request often generates substantial information on the care and use of animals at research institutions. Follow the format on the sample letter at the end of this section (according to whether you are filing as an organization or as an individual). Put a number on your request for your own reference and save copies of your letters. The FOIA office is required to send a written response within ten days of receiving your letter, but the actual documents take longer to process.

The Freedom of Information Act does not answer questions; it only gives you copies of documents, so phrase your letter accordingly. Examples of documents you can request are listed below. Be aware that gathering this information will probably take weeks or months, so request these reports as early as possible. Also, be sure to keep in touch with the FOIA office by phone or letter. This may speed their response.

The Freedom of Information Act (USDA)

Most research institutions are inspected by the USDA at least once every year. The results of these inspections are available through FOIA. The following documents can be obtained from the APHIS department of the USDA:

Annual Reports (for a given facility): Include the numbers and types of animals listed by facility and categorize the experiments according to the degree of pain experienced by the animals. You can access these reports online here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/SA_Obtain_Research_Facility_Annual_Report.

Inspection Reports (only available for non-federal facilities): List detailed results of inspections performed by the USDA according to Animal Welfare Act specifications. Any violations of the Act are included. You can request an inspection of a facility by contacting the offices below:

Fort Collins, Colorado, Office
USDA-APHIS-AC
2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
E-mail: acwest@aphis.usda.gov

Or

Raleigh, North Corolina, Office
USDA-APHIS-AC
920 Main Campus Drive,
Suite 200
Raleigh, NC 27606-5210
E-mail: aceast@aphis.usda.gov

 

Program of Veterinary Care: Gives the veterinarian's name, address, and health care specifications for the institution, including euthanasia procedures.

Application for Registration: Lists the numbers of animals used annually, the principal investigators and other key staff, and the name of the funding agency, if the institution is federally funded.

Correspondence between the USDA and the facility will also be included in a FOIA request.

Send your Freedom of Information Act request to:

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service 
Director, Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Staff 
4700 River Road, Unit 50 
Riverdale, MD 20737
FAX: 301-734-5941
E-MAIL: foia.officer@aphis.usda.gov 
VIA Web Request Form: Click here to submit your FOIA Request Online.

Basic inspection reports (without a FOIA) are available at https://acissearch.aphis.usda.gov/LPASearch/faces/CustomerSearch.jspx.

There is also is extensive information on using the Freedom of Information Act available here.

 

The Freedom of Information Act (NIH)

When research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, some additional materials may be available through FOIA: (1) the Grant Application, including the names of principal researchers, biographical sketches, project dates, the total project cost and breakdown of costs, a detailed description of the project, and the amount of the grant; (2) the Animal Welfare Assurances, including a listing of the persons responsible for compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, the name and job description of the staff veterinarian, the procedures followed by the IACUC, and the numbers and types of animals in each facility; and (3) other information such as Annual Progress Reports, videotapes and photographs of experiments, and pertinent correspondence.

Each component of the NIH has its own FOIA coordinator. To find out to whom a FOIA request should be sent, please go here https://www.nih.gov/institutes-nih/nih-office-director/office-communications-public-liaison/freedom-information-act-office/nih-freedom-information-office-coordinators.

You can submit a FOIA request electronically to nihfoia@mail.nih.gov

FOIA requests may be denied for a variety of reasons. 

FOIA requesters should attach copies of their original requests and response letters to all appeals, clearly mark the letters and the outside envelopes, "FOIA Appeal, " and mail appeals to the following address:

Deputy Agency Chief FOIA Officer
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
5600 Fishers Lane, Room 19-01
Rockville, MD 20857
foiarequest@psc.hhs.gov 
Phone (301) 443-3403
Fax (301) 480-5862 

 

The Freedom of Information Act (DOD)

There are several different DoD components to which different FOIA requests should be sent. The DoD offers an informational handbook here. This is the best place to start for anyone interested in submitting a DoD FOIA.

To submit a FOIA to one of the four major branches of the military, contact:

Office of the Inspector General
ATTN:  SAIG-ZXR (Records Release)
1700 Army Pentagon, RM 1E132
Washington, DC  20310
E-mail:  usarmy.pentagon.hqda-otig.mbx.saig-zxl@mail.mil
FAX:  (703) 545-4585
http://www.daig.pentagon.mil/Pdf/DAIG_FOIA_Form.pdf


Navy Public Affairs Office 
Attn: FOIA Coordinator (N01P)
U.S. Fleet Forces Command 
1562 Mitscher Ave., Suite 250
Norfolk, VA 23551-2487
FAX: 1-757-836-3603 
Headquarters Air Force/AAII (FOIA)
1000 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1000
Phone: (703) 693-2735/692-9981
Email:  usaf.pentagon.saf-aa.mbx.haf-foia-workflow@mail.mil
Headquarters US Marine Corps

Attn:  FOIA/PA Section (ARSF) Rm 2B289
3000 Marine Corps Pentagon
Washington DC 20350-3000
Online form: https://foiaonline.regulations.gov/foia/action/public/request/publicPreCreate  

If you have any questions please send an email to Headquarters, Marine Corps to hqmcfoia@usmc.mil or call 703-614-4008.

Another useful site is the Department of Defense Biomedical Research Database at http://www.dtic.mil/biosys/brd/index.html. This site allows access to non-classified research funded by the DoD.

Other government agencies that fund animal experiments have FOIA departments as well. These include the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Transportation, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the Veterans' Administration.

 

Sample FOIA Request Letter 1

[Individual's Return Address]

[Date]

Freedom of Information Act Officer
[Institution]
[Address]
[FOIA request #] (Select a number to keep track of your requests. You can use the date and any number of your choosing, as in 05-15-16 01.)

Dear Sir or Madam,

This request for records is made under the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552.

This request pertains to [list experiment, research paper, institution, etc.] and includes, but is not limited to, the following records: [tailor your request to the materials you think you will need: grant proposals, annual reports, inspection reports, IACUC reports, correspondence, and any documents that show cost].

If any of the records or documents described above are considered to be exempt from release, please segregate and provide access to non-exempt portions, and justify deletions by reference to specific exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act.

I am prepared to pay all reasonable search and duplication fees up to an initial amount of [select a reasonable amount, e.g., $25.00]. If the fees will exceed [previously selected dollar amount], please notify me by telephone before the request is processed so that I may decide whether to pay the fee.

Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to receiving your reply within ten business days.

Sincerely,

[Signature]
[Typed Name]
[Phone number]
[FOIA request #] (repeat the number given above)

 

Sample FOIA Request Letter 2

[Organization's Letterhead]

[Date]

Freedom of Information Act Officer
[Institution]
[Address]
[FOIA request #]
(Select a number to keep track of your requests. You can use the date and any number of your choosing, as in 05-15-16 01.)

Dear Sir or Madam,

This request for records is made under the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552.

[Name of your organization] is a nonprofit organization based in [city], dedicated to educating the public about animal protection issues. [Name of organization] may hereafter be referred to as "the requester."

This request pertains to [list experiment, research paper, institution, etc.] and includes, but is not limited to, the following records: [tailor your request to the materials you think you will need: grant proposals, annual reports, inspection reports, IACUC reports, correspondence, and any documents that show cost].

If any of the records or documents described above are considered to be exempt from release, please segregate and provide access to non-exempt portions, and justify deletions by reference to specific exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act.

The requester is prepared to pay all reasonable search and duplication fees up to an initial amount of [select a reasonable amount, e.g., $25.00]. However, the Freedom of Information Act provides that: "Documents shall be furnished without charge or at a reduced charge where the agency determines that waiver or reduction of the fee is in the public interest because furnishing the information can be considered as primarily benefiting the general public" (5 U.S.C. Sec. 552 (a)(4)(9A)).

The requester believes that this request satisfies the criteria for fee waiver or reduction:

  1. The requester is a nonprofit, public interest organization whose tax exempt number is [number].
  2. The use of live animals in research has historically been a matter of wide public interest.
  3. The disclosure of the requested records would not be to the primary benefit of the requester, but would be to the primary benefit of the general public. The requester has demonstrated its ability to disseminate to the general public the information it acquires. This is achieved by [give examples of newsletters, other publications, and media contacts].

Therefore, the requester asks that any search and duplication fees in this case be waived or reduced. If the waiver or reduction is denied and the fees will exceed [previously selected dollar amount], please notify the requester by telephone before the request is processed so that the requester may decide whether to pay the fee or appeal the denial of the request for waiver or reduction.

Thank you for your assistance. I look forward to receiving your reply within ten business days.

Sincerely,

[Signature]
[Typed Name]
[Title]
[Phone number]
[FOIA request #] (repeat the number given above)

National Technical Information Service

If you already know the title of a research project but still need to review the final reports of the study, contact the National Technical Information Service of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This organization maintains files of federal research and development activities. They can be reached at:

U.S. Department of Commerce
National Technical Information Service (NTIS)
5301 Shawnee Road
Alexandria, VA 22312
Phone: (703) 605.6000 or Toll Free: 1.800.553.NTIS (6847)
http://www.ntis.gov

The Medical Literature

All medical schools have libraries, and most are open to the public. There, you can look up research published by specific individuals, similar work being done by other researchers, the source of research funding, other work which addresses the same needs in alternative ways, similar experiments performed on humans, and background statistics. Unrelated laboratory groups may have conducted experiments similar to the research you are examining.

Using Medline

Medline is an invaluable tool for anyone concerned with medical research. Users can access a database of nearly 4,000 selected medical journals, including most major ones. Published journal articles can be easily and efficiently identified, and the full text of articles can be retrieved from a university library.

There are a number of ways to access Medline from the Internet. A useful Medline access site is http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed

Each of these sites allow the user to search through the vast database of published journal articles, but each is slightly different in layout and the search parameters offered. Try them both and use whichever suits your needs.

With either Medline search, you can click on the brief citation of the article for more detailed information. This will usually include an abstract (a brief synopsis of the article).

If you want to find all published articles from a given author, it is best to use PubMed. Enter the author's last name followed by first and middle initials. To search within a field (title, author, etc.) using PubMed, you must click on the word—not the box adjacent to—"limits."

It may be advisable to limit searches to "English" unless you are fluent in another language. Note, however, that the abstracts frequently will be available in English, even if the entire article is not, and the abstract may provide enough information for your purposes.

PubMed now features a search parameter that limits results to exclusively human studies, or animal studies, if desired. If you are using another interface without this feature, use the search field called "MeSH Terms" or "MeSH Headings." If you are interested in locating descriptions of experiments on specific types of animals, you can enter these in the "MeSH Terms/Headings" field. It is best to enter them as single (not plural) terms, e.g., "mouse," not "mice." If you want information specifically on human trials, enter "clinical" as a MeSH term.

To locate descriptions of experiments performed at a particular place such as a university, try entering the name of the facility in the "Affiliation" field. This will not guarantee that all the results returned detail experiments performed at that locale, but it will narrow it down considerably.

Another useful feature of the PubMed Medline is the Journal Browser. Select this from PubMed's home page to determine the official abbreviations for full journal titles or vice versa. This can be very useful, as most citations use only the abbreviations while the title of the journal is usually listed in full with the articles it contains.

You may also wish to visit http://www.nlm.nih.gov/databases/databases_medline.html to search the Medline database. This site also provides links to helpful advice on using Medline and other search tools.

Supportive Documentation

Don't forget to keep copies of all correspondence and notes of phone conversations. If you are concerned about a particular experiment, PCRM may be able to help. Contact us at:

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
5100 Wisconsin Ave., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20016
Phone: 202-686-2210
Fax: 202-686-2216
pcrm@pcrm.org
http://www.pcrm.org

In addition to experts, you may wish to contact people who are said to benefit from such research to learn if they would indeed find such data useful, or if they approve of the practices you have exposed. This could include people affected by the disease which is being studied and physicians who care for them. You might discover some alternatives which prove more useful than the animal research being conducted.

Also notify congressional representatives, senators, and pertinent congressional committees. Your members of Congress can often obtain additional information that may be difficult for you to access directly. This site is helpful in locating contact information for your members of Congress.

Animals in Education

Animals are sometimes used in classes at universities and medical or veterinary schools. Information can be obtained by writing or calling the relevant department or by contacting students. Alumni of the school can be very helpful, as well. A syllabus or protocol from the particular curriculum may provide listings of the numbers and types of animals used. Inquire whether alternatives to the laboratories are available. If so, ask if students are notified about the alternatives at the beginning of the course. PCRM compiles information on animal use at medical schools for the benefit of prospective students, so please let us know of any new information you may receive. PCRM also provides information about alternatives to medical students and faculty.

If animals are being used in high school or elementary school classes, inquire how many animals are used and whether the laboratories are mandatory. Information on students' rights can be obtained here.

PCRM can provide free copies of our dissection fact sheets.

Bringing in the Law

Local Authorities

If you discover violations of state or county law, contact local enforcement agencies, such as the sheriff's office or police department, magistrate or district attorney, animal control officer, and/or humane society or animal shelter. Provide them with a written statement/affidavit of your observations. Professional opinions will help your case, so try to gather any relevant expert critiques before presenting your findings.

To help you with this step, consider enlisting the aid of some local influential citizens, such as council members or school superintendents. They can help ensure that the material you are presenting is given the prompt and careful attention it deserves.

Local Animal Protection Organizations

Animal protection organizations in your area may know what, if anything, is being done on a particular case. They may have suggestions for a plan of action and may provide other types of assistance.

Once you have learned about research on animals conducted in your area, make this information available to others. Remember that the Freedom of Information offices assume that you will do this with the material they give you.

Spreading the Word

When concerns arise, don't keep silent. Circulate petitions and organize table displays. Always have a specific "what you can do" angle. Present your information to appropriate special interest groups who can help spread the word. For example, ferret clubs may commit time and resources towards stopping ferret head injury studies. Focus on three basic areas: what is happening now, what can be done about it, and what should be happening instead.

In Conclusion

Keep in mind that you provide the funds for research, as a taxpayer and a contributor to foundations, and that you have a right to know the details. Share what you know with others, and, above all, make your opinions known.