US researchers are “trying to stifle transparency, and make sure that their interests are met and not the animals’”
Kathleen Conlee of the HSUS
It seems like things are about to get a whole lot worse for the millions of unfortunate animals being tested on in US labs. The Trump administration has a passion for deregulation, unaware (if we’re feeling generous) or not caring (if we’re brutally honest) that regulations were put in place to begin with to provide important legal protections – protections for the environment, for drinking water, for clean air, for safe food, for national parks, for indigenous sacred places etc. And for animals.
The 21st Century Cures Act
To say the first year of the new presidency has kept the newsmen and women busy is an understatement. Trump and the GOP have attempted, and sometimes succeeded, in getting through Congress some very controversial and retrograde bills. But the 21st Century Cures Act Congress passed last month appears to have attracted little press attention.
The Act “is designed to help accelerate medical product development and bring new innovations and advances to patients who need them faster and more efficiently.” So far so good. What’s not to like? But the devil is in the detail. One provision of the Act calls on the USDA, the NIH and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to work together to reduce the “administrative burden” on the researchers and institutions that use animals. Under those two innocuous words lie a worrying threat to lab animals in the USA.
The mishmash that is the current US animal-testing legislation
Admitted, the rules around animal testing are at present quite the mishmash. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees tests on rabbits and larger mammals (800,000 animals in 2016). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) oversees testing on rats, mice and birds – these animals are considered so unimportant that no statistics about them are required to be recorded. Then there are privately-funded animal studies, already pretty much under the regulation-radar.
What’s bugging the scientists
Animal-testing scientists and their universities have grumbled for years about what they see as tedious and time-wasting red tape, the paperwork they are required to complete, and the regulations they are required to adhere to. Now the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and three other groups have joined forces in a new report to demand –
“Moving all oversight to a single agency, conducting less frequent lab inspections, and giving researchers greater say in crafting new rules”
Can you hear the alarm bells ringing? Well, you are not alone. Kathleen Conlee of the Humane Society (HSUS) says, “It’s clear this would negatively impact animal welfare.”
These are the present legal requirements scientists find so irksome:-
- Animal facilities must be inspected by university committees every 6 months
- Test protocols must be reviewed by the universities every year
- Researchers must submit their protocols long before they get grants, and need to complete and resubmit more paperwork if the protocols change
- Worst of all as far as the scientists are concerned, they are required to check the literature for “less invasive alternatives” before opting to test on animals
What the scientists want
So this is what the scientists are calling for:-
- Animal facility inspections once a year instead of every 6 months
- Protocol reviews reduced to every 3 years
- Doing away with annual site inspections by government officials. Instead focusing only on facilities with a poor track record
- Exempting certain types of experiments from full review by the university committees
“The goal”, says Sally Thompson-Iritani, overseer of animal research at the University of Washington, “is getting scientists back to the bench doing their research, and animal care specialists getting back to their animals.” (It’s unclear what she means by “animal care specialists.” Animal care and animal testing are two concepts troublesome to reconcile.)
And there’s worse
I haven’t yet mentioned the two most disquieting of the animal-testing scientists’ proposals:-
- Abolishing the requirement to trawl the literature for alternatives to animal testing
- Calling on the White House “to create a new advisory panel made up of animal researchers”
Less than a year ago, the company Emulate was proud to announce its new partnership with the FDA to test its organ-chips, a great breakthrough. These organs-on-a-chip have the potential to “eliminate the need to test drugs or cosmetics on animals.” Empty the labs, in other words. How perfect would that be. Apparently the FDA is still committed to this venture. On its website: “FDA has research and development efforts underway to reduce the need for animal testing and to work toward replacement of animal testing.”
How this endeavour will fare going forward if the end-users’, the researchers’, get their way, who knows. Proposal No.1 is as perverse as it is retrograde and horrifying.
And as for No.2, who will there be to speak for the animals?
Until December 2018
The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has received the animal-testers proposals, and has until the December 2018 deadline to present recommendations that comply with Congress’s call to cut the red tape.
Which means we who care about the plight of those millions suffering in US labs have until then to support every possible campaign that is speaking up for the animals.
Update from PETA
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a move that would let the agency shirk its responsibility to ensure that laboratories are complying with the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). If this happens, laboratories and other animal-abusing industries—including puppy mills, circuses, and roadside zoos—could be allowed to use private, industry-friendly groups to inspect their facilities, leading to even more suffering for animals imprisoned in them and even less transparency.”
Take Action here
LOTS of petitions by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine here. Everyone can sign
NEAVS’ petition to end cosmetics testing on animals in the US, sign here (US citizens only)
Sign up for NEAVS’ news and action alerts here
Sign up for PETA’s news and action alerts here