The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was first passed by Congress in 1966 and has since been amended six times. It requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be established for certain animals used in research, bred for commercial sale, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. The 1985 amendments, entitled the “Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act,” were the most significant changes to the Act and strengthened the standards for providing laboratory animal care, increased enforcement of the Act, provided for the collection and dissemination of information to reduce unintended duplication of experiments using animals ,and mandated training for those who care for and use animals.
All institutions using regulated animals for research, testing, teaching, or experimentation must register with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as “research facilities,” regardless of whether or not they receive federal funds. Currently, regulated animal species include any live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or any other warm-blooded animal, which is being used, or is intended to be used for research, teaching, testing, or experimentation. Currently, the definition of animals covered by the AWA excludes rats, mice, and birds used in research. Animals used for food and fiber, or for agricultural research, are also excluded, and therefore, only farm animals used for biomedical research are covered.
The 1985 amendments required research facilities to establish Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) with specified duties for assuring compliance with the AWA. Under the AWA, a key role of the IACUC is reviewing and approving all activities that involve the care and use of regulated animals. The purpose of this review is to assure that any potential pain and distress is minimized, that the number of animals used is appropriate, and that the personnel who care for and use the animals are appropriately qualified. The IACUC also performs semi-annual inspections of research facilities to evaluate the animal care program, and report their findings to the Institutional Official (IO).
The AWA is implemented by the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which issues licenses to dealers, registers research institutions, and makes unannounced annual inspections to assure compliance with the Act. If an inspection reveals deficiencies in meeting the AWA standards and regulations, the facility must correct the problems within a given timeframe. In serious cases of neglect, formal legal actions may be taken by APHIS that include significant monetary fines and other penalties. Institutions are required to maintain extensive records for their animal care facilities, and each year must file an annual report that assures that professionally acceptable standards for the care and use of animals were followed, that alternatives to painful procedures were considered, and that the facility is adhering to the regulations and standards under the Act. In addition, facilities must report the number of animals used in research during the previous fiscal year. For more information on the USDA and Animal Welfare Act, refer to the http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_welfare/index.shtml.