Animal experimentation is an issue that raises
controversy whenever it is discussed. It has been the center of
controversy for almost two decades. Animal rights activists have held
hundreds of protests on this issue. The pro-experimentation lobby
opposes any new regulation of the field.
However, one of the most controversial issues about
animal experimentation is the direction in which it is going. No one
seems to know if animal experimentation is increasing or decreasing.
Are more animals being experimented on today than five years ago, or
are fewer animals imprisoned in laboratories? Definitive answers to
these questions are difficult to obtain. Accuracy is difficult because
reporting requirements do not currently cover many of the most
commonly used species. Therefore, we are left with a very incomplete
Reports issued by the USDA/APHIS (the government
agency charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act) on an annual
basis are difficult to assess. While they seem to indicate trends,
these trends are often fraught with uncertainty. The exclusion of
commonly used species (rats, mice, birds, etc.) is one concern.
Additionally, there seems to be a constant problem with reporting.
Many labs simply seem not to file the necessary forms in time for
their statistics to be included in this report. In the five-year
period between 1996 and 2000 there was not a single year when all
facilities reported. In that period, an average of 58 facilities per
year did not report. If these non-reporting labs are facilities that
experiment on 300 animals per year, then this is not particularly
significant. If they happen to be labs that experiment on 50,000
animals a year, then the statistics could change dramatically.
Where does that leave us? Unfortunately, nowhere. No
other reports provide data which give a picture that is any better.
Therefore we have undertaken a different method of assessing the
direction of animal experimentation.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to assess every
aspect of animal experimentation. Private labs are often not
particularly forthcoming with information, and government agencies can
take months to turn over documents.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the
largest single funding agency for animal experimentation in the U.S.
The CRISP (Computer Retrieved Information on Scientific Projects)
database catalogues every project that the NIH (and some other parts
of the Department of Health and Human Services) funds via a grant,
whether it involves animals or clinical research. Evaluation of this
database should give us a good indication of animal experimentation
within the NIH and, by generalization, throughout the rest of the
government. This can then potentially be generalized to represent
animal experimentation as a whole. However, the CRISP system deals
only with NIH grants. NIH research contracts are not part of this
system. However, it is believed that trends in the contract system
would closely resemble trends in the grant system.