Federal Oversight in Animal Labs

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Federal Oversight in Animal Labs

By Ken Shapiro, Ph.D., Animals and Society Institute, May 2010

An analysis of animal experiments funded by the U.S. Public Health Service shows that a significant number deviate from animal care standards intended to minimize pain and distress. The results appear in the April 2010 issue (Vol. 13) of the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science in an article titled, Noncompliance with Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals: An Exploratory Analysis.

Study Summary

Three analysts (Leah Gomez, Kathleen Conlee and Martin Stephens) used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain 124 reports submitted to the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare during a three-month period in 2005. Because researchers who deviate from PHS animal care and use standards must report such incidents to OLAW, the authors looked at how often and under what circumstances more than 1,000 animals were reported to have experienced pain, distress or death.

They wrote, "The system of compliance oversight of federally funded animal research outlined in OLAW...relies heavily on self-reporting and self-correction by research institutions. We recognize that such self-oversight can, in principle, result in prompt attention and correction of an issue by the institution; however, federal oversight should dramatically ramp up when serious problems arise at the institutional level. In our view, this is not happening routinely."

Policy Implications

This study and others like it are part of a larger effort to make animal research institutions more accountable and transparent regarding their use and treatment of millions of animals each year.

By drawing attention to noncompliance with current regulations in federally funded research, Gomez, Conlee and Stephens provide a watchdog function with regard to regulatory implementation. This and other literature that critiques current regulations governing animal research and finds it wanting draws on both ethic- and science- based considerations. By calling attention to the unreliability and incoherence of current legislation and regulations, this literature is part of a broader indictment of the current paradigm of using animals as models of human disorders.