Overview of Existing System
Public accountability is essential to the future of research that can relieve human and animal suffering and save lives. Americans strongly support U.S. investment in such research, considering it to be among the nation’s highest priorities.1 Americans are also well-known for wanting animals to receive proper care and to be protected from harm. Therefore, given the public’s interest in both scientific advances and animal welfare, a comprehensive system of government oversight is in place regulating 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: Agriculture, Health and Human Services (including the National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Food and Drug Administration), Defense, Environmental Protection Agency, National Science Foundation and Veterans Affairs. Interagency programs also exist to coordinate federal actions and address mutual responsibilities, such as the identification of valid 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. Please see the menu at right for details about applicable laws, regulations and policies listed by each responsible entity.
More than 50 federal laws have been enacted to protect animals, but the primary federal law governing the use of animals in research, exhibition and education is the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The Health Research Extension Act of 1985, which amended the U.S. Public Health Service Act, is the other significant federal law governing 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 depends on excellent care of research animals. Therefore, protecting and improving animal well-being has been a longstanding endeavor of the research community. Even if government oversight did not exist, scientists know that the animals necessary for their work must be cared for humanely for both ethical and scientific reasons. In fact, professional standards for research animal care were established by the scientific community before being required by law. Evidence of scientists’ commitment to animal welfare include the establishment of a voluntary private accreditation program, 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 continue to be updated today based upon research advances. 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, including compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
"Americans Think Commitment to Research Should Be Higher," Research!America 2006 National Survey