2005 Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act:
Whose Side is the USDA on?

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2005 Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act: Whose Side is the USDA on?
By Michael A. Budkie, A.H.T., Executive Director, SAEN
[email protected] 

Reliability of USDA/APHIS/AC Information

The OIG audit report had another finding which is rather startling. Apparently, many inspectors are simply taking the word of research facilities for the number of animals on hand during inspections, not doing any independent verification of these numbers. This kind of lapse raises even further doubts about the enforcement of animal protection laws in the United States. If federal inspectors can’t even be bothered to count animals, we must wonder how thorough these inspections really are. Again, does the USDA want to do its’ legally mandated job? Is the goal of this agency to protect the interests of the American people, or protect the entities which it regulates from the scrutiny of the American people?

If the number of animals present during an inspection is not determined independently, then we must wonder if any examination is made of annual reports filed by research facilities. This must cast doubt on the totals for animals in laboratories promulgated by the USDA. Since the USDA is the only source for this information, both the general public and the rest of the federal government (i.e. congress) are utilizing information that is highly suspect, at best.

The website of USDA/APHIS/AC contains reports on animal use in labs which include statistics dating back to the year 1973. However, in recent years the statistics for federal agencies have been omitted from this report. This eliminates at least 9% of the total animals (for fiscal 2001, as an example) for a given year. In some species the statistics can be significantly skewed by the number of animals omitted. For 2001 48% (or 12,641 sheep) of the 26,236 sheep reported for the nation were used by federal agencies. In more recent years, the numbers may be even more skewed. For 2004 the USDA reports the use of 172 sheep in the state of Nebraska. However, this total is by no means all inclusive. The USDA’s own facility in Clay Center, NE used 10,854 sheep for this year. The unreported USDA sheep in Nebraska are equivalent to 56% of the total reported by the USDA for the nation. In total, the USDA used over 50,000 animals in 2004. None of these animals were included in the published national totals for animal experimentation. In fact, potentially the majority of animals used by the USDA may be permanently excluded from any coverage by the AWA because these animals are used in “agricultural” research. It must be noted that the animals in USDA facilities, most of whom are not protected by the AWA, receive no independent protections.

Partial documentation for the USDA and other federal agencies reveals a total of 81,726 non-reported animals for the 2004 reporting year. This number is extremely limited. It omits data for several of the largest Department of Defense laboratories including: Fort Detrick and Walter Reed Hospital. Additionally, the agency which is one of the largest users of animals in laboratories – the National Institutes of Health – is not included in this total. Past totals have listed DOD regulated animal usage at over 36,000 and the NIH has had usage of over 16,500 (for 2000). This would put the potential total at 127,500.

Since the data released for previous years included the information from federal agencies which is omitted in current totals, any comparison of the statistics on the USDA/APHIS/AC website is extremely misleading – because a minimum of 9% of the current total is not disclosed due to the omission of federal agencies.

The totals disclosed for recent years 1,137,580 (2002), 1,188,469 (2003), 1,101,958(2004) appear to show a decrease in animal use when compared with the 2001 of 1,236,903. However, when the 10% estimated for federal agencies is added back in, the picture changes. The totals become: 1,251,338 (2002), 1,307,316 (2003), 1,229,458 (2004 – using the estimated federal figure above). And the 2004 number may be low due to increases in the use of animals by federal agencies for experimentation related to bio-terrorism.

It must also be noted that the animals in the laboratories of other federal agencies receive no independent protection from abuse. The DOD labs are inspected only by officials of the DOD. The NIH labs are inspected only by officials of the NIH. If it were not important for independent enforcement of the regulations of the Animal Welfare Act then why was responsibility for inspecting private labs given to a government agency? If such protections are still important, then why are federal facilities not inspected independently?

Clearly, there is a conflict of interest when research facilities are expected to self-regulate. Is there not a similar conflict of interest in existence when a government agency is expected to self-regulate? Shouldn’t all of the federally owned research facilities be independently inspected by an entity that doesn’t have an interest in defending the legitimacy of animal research? In short, all regulation of animals in labs is currently done by agencies who are, themselves, conducting animal experimentation. This is not a desirable situation.

Other animals are also omitted from USDA reporting. For example, the USDA statistics do not include the animals who are confined in a research facility that are used in or breeding are being conditioned for later use in research. In some instances this number can be substantial. For example, in Louisiana for the year 2004, the USDA states in their annual report that 2213 primates were used in research. 2159 of these primates were experimented on at either Tulane University or the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. However, these universities have a combined total of 9843 primates who were held for breeding or conditioning purposes. Similar situations exist at other facilities. Why are these animals not disclosed? How many animals are being purposely hidden in this way? And if the inspectors are not verifying how many animals are present, why should we believe that these animals are only being housed and not experimented on?

Other animals in laboratories are also prohibited from being reported, and in fact receiving any coverage under the Animal Welfare Act. Rats and mice are legislatively prohibited from coverage in the AWA. Farm animals used in agricultural research are also exempted from coverage of the Animal Welfare Act. This last provision has a very interesting consequence for the USDA itself. The USDA performs a large number of research projects regarding animals used in agriculture. In fact, if the animals who are exempted under this provision (i.e. sheep, pigs, goats, etc. that ARE covered in other research facilities) are added back into the totals for the USDA, this agency becomes the largest federal agency in terms of regulated species used in experimentation.

It is extremely convenient that the law/regulations governing the use of animals in laboratories specifically exclude from coverage in those laws/regulations the majority of animals experimented on by the agency who administers those laws and regulations.

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