Oversight of Animal Research

CongressionalColumnsPublic accountability is an essential component to the future of biomedical research that seeks to relieve human and animal suffering and save lives. Americans strongly support the U.S. investment in biomedical research, and consider it to be among the nation’s highest priorities. Americans also strongly desire for animals to receive proper care, and be protected from harm. Therefore, given the public’s interest in both scientific advancement and animal welfare, a comprehensive system of government oversight is in place to regulate the use of animals in the laboratory.

At the federal level, the following departments or agencies have a major role in the protection of research animals including: Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control, Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, Health and Human Services (including National Institutes of Health, and Food and Drug Administration), National Science Foundation, and Veterans Affairs. Interagency programs coordinate federal actions and address mutual responsibilities, such as the validation of alternative methods to the use of animals in research and testing. The U.S. Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing, Research and Training underlie the existing system of regulation. These tenets succinctly describe the framework within which all activities must be conducted. However, specific compliance requirements are extensive.

More than 50 federal laws have been enacted to protect animals; of these, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) primarily governs the use of animals in research and education. The Health Research Extension Act of 1985, which amended the U.S. Public Health Service Act, is the other significant federal law that governs the use of animal in research by federally funded institutions. In addition to federal requirements, some state governments regulate animal research facilities in a variety of ways.
Excellent science and the medical advancements produced, depend on the excellent care of research animals. Therefore, protecting and improving animal welfare has been a longstanding endeavor of the research community. Even if government oversight did not exist, scientists know that research animals must be humanely cared for, both for ethical and scientific reasons. In fact, the scientific community established professional standards for research animal care before it was ever required to do so by law.

Beyond compliance with applicable laws and regulations, the evidence of scientists’ commitment to animal welfare include the establishment of a voluntary private accreditation program, the creation of a laboratory animal medicine specialty for veterinarians, and the early development of a host of professional standards for animal care and use that based upon research advances are continually updated. Animal welfare policies adopted by academic and professional societies, individual research institutions, and scientific publications reinforce the responsibilities of all involved with animal care and use. Please see NABR's Animal Law Section for more details regarding these professional and scientific standards.