WASHINGTON—The Animal Welfare Act, passed more than 50 years ago, has not matured past its infancy in terms of effectively preventing unnecessary and inhumane animal experiments, says Physicians Committee senior counsel Leslie Rudloff, Esq., in an article published in the Syracuse Law Review’s Symposium on Animal Law.
In Failure to Launch: The Lack of Implementation and Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Rudloff explores the failures of Congress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs), research facilities, and funding agencies to implement and enforce the Animal Welfare Act.
Rudloff describes how Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 following a Life magazine article on animal dealers who stole family pets—like Lucky, an English pointer—and forced them to live in deplorable conditions until they were sold to research facilities. Lucky was described as “a pathetic, emaciated horror” when she was rescued from a research facility.
The Animal Welfare Act was originally passed to prohibit the use of stolen animals in research experiments and to insure that the “animals intended for use in research facilities [were] provided humane care and treatment.” It defined “animal” as “dogs, cats, monkeys (nonhuman primate mammals), guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits.”
In 1970, Congress expanded that definition to include all warm-blooded animals except for farmed animals, and required the “use of anesthetic, analgesic or tranquilizing drugs” during experimentation. In 1985, Congress passed the Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act, requiring that alternatives be considered for any procedure likely to “produce pain to or distress in an experimental animal.” It also established the IACUCs at research facilities to “assess animal care, treatment, and practices in experimental research as determined by the needs of the research facility.”
In her paper, Rudloff provides evidence that the USDA has failed to, as instructed by Congress, promote “standards to govern the humane handling, care, treatment, and transportation of animals by dealers, research facilities, and exhibitors.” It has also failed to enforce these regulations.
Her research also reveals that a 2014 government report found that some of the IACUCs “did not adequately approve, monitor, or report on experimental procedures on animals.” The IACUCs have also failed to effectively suggest or consider alternatives, such as simulators, in medical training procedures.
“The failures of Congress, the USDA, IACUCs, research facilities, and funding agencies to implement and enforce the Animal Welfare Act has resulted in the needless use, suffering, and death of animals in experimentation every year,” concludes Rudloff. “Until Congress, the USDA, IACUCs, research facilities, and funding agencies take responsibility for their respective roles in the implementation and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the original intent will never be fully realized.”
The paper was written prior the USDA’s Feb. 3 shutdown of the Animal Care Information System, a website that included a searchable database of reports on how animals are used in laboratories and whether those facilities are complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act. The Physicians Committee is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that requires the USDA to immediately restore the website.
The paper is also featured on the home page of the Animal Legal and Historical Web Center.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.