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The Animal Experimentation Scandal:
An Audit of the National Institutes of Health
Funding of Animal Experimentation

Introduction

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 picture.

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.

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Go on to Audit Scope and Methodology

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