U.S. Law and Animal Research

U.S. law protects the welfare of many, but not all, animals used in research. 

Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act, signed into law in 1966 and updated by several amendments, is the only federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, and transport, and by dealers. It applies to all research involving animals in the U.S., but it does not apply to all animals. It is limited to warm-blooded animals, and it does not cover many of those – most notably excluding mice, rats, and birds, which along with fish make up 95 percent of the animals used in research. Other laws, policies, and guidelines cover additional species or include more specifications for animal care and use, but all refer to the Animal Welfare Act as the minimum acceptable standard. The law focuses mainly on setting standards for animal housing and basic pain control. It is enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Care agency. The Act aims to assure the oversight of animal research primarily by mandating the establishment, at each research institution, of an institutional animal care and use committee, or IACUC – a self-regulating entity that must review all proposed animal research protocols and ensure that the researchers make efforts to treat the animals humanely by employing the 3Rs.

Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals: Eighth Edition. Committee for the Update of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals; National Research Council, 2010

The Guide is an internationally accepted primary reference on animal care for the scientific community and is required for use by federally funded research institutions. Unlike the Animal Welfare Act, it covers mice and rats (excluding those bred specifically for research), as well as birds and fish. It is updated regularly to reflect new data, scientific principles, and expert opinions. Like the Animal Welfare Act, the Guide assures the oversight of animal research primarily through IACUCs.

Proposed Legislation: Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act

Identical bills introduced in the Senate and the House of Representatives in 2011 would have prohibited  the use of great apes in invasive research and for other research purposes. The bills had bipartisan support. It remains to be seen whether the bills will be reintroduced in 2013.

Use of great apes in scientific research is banned in the Netherlands, and restricted in other European Union member states, as well as in Australia and New Zealand.