Comments on the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare’s Proposed Position Statements on the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals

The Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted comments urging the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare to hold animal researchers to specific, quantifiable standards for housing rats, mice, and rabbits, and to refuse to allow researchers to house animals in substandard conditions to save on costs. The following is the full text of ALDF’s comments.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund supports, in part, Position Statement (1), which states that “[c]ost cannot be the overriding factor in decisions related to animal welfare.” ALDF is concerned, however, that this principle is compromised by OLAW’s simultaneous willingness to permit institutions to use less expensive and less humane approaches than those required by the Guide. As discussed in more detail below, ALDF urges OLAW to require organizations to comply with the measurable standards in the Guide, rather than allowing institutions to develop their own work-around solutions that use cost as a deciding factor.

Federal regulations require that facilities receiving federal funds comply with the Guide. 42 C.F.R. 52b.14(d)(5). Despite this clear requirement, PHS has adopted a policy of “enforced self-regulation,” in which oversight is left to internal review committees and facilities must merely provide “assurances” of animal welfare. This policy makes it difficult for PHS and OLAW to ensure that regulated laboratories are meeting the requirements of the Guide. This militates in favor of establishing clear, quantifiable standards at the outset. Combining “enforced self-regulation” with the loose “performance standards” advocated in this position statement is a recipe for disaster: it provides laboratories with an unchecked incentive to find that deviations from quantifiable standards are permissible, thus compromising animal welfare.

ALDF is concerned that Position Statement 2(c) retreats from the precise space standards for rodent housing articulated in the Guide in favor of amorphous “performance standards” that would allow institutions to avoid updating their facilities. OLAW states in Position Statement 2(c) that institutions should use the space recommendations contained in Table 3.2 as “a starting point.” OLAW should clarify that under the Guide, these recommendations are a minimum. Any departure from these baselines must be authorized by the IACUC, and OLAW must clarify that this cannot be done as a matter of routine, nor can it be done for cost-saving purposes or convenience. As is evident from their public comments, laboratories’ unwillingness to adopt the Guide’s recommendations in Table 3.2 stems entirely from concerns about the cost and inconvenience of doing so. Because the new standards in the Guide for rodent housing provide a clear directive to institutions that would result in improved living conditions for laboratory animals, we urge OLAW to retract its Position Statement 2(c) and instead clarify its expectation that labs meet the Guide’s minimum space recommendations in Table 3.2.

Again, ALDF is concerned about the disastrous combination of imprecise performance standards with self-regulation, and urges OLAW to adopt as written the Guide’s requirement that rabbit cages be at least 16 inches in height. (Guide at 59, Table 3.3). OLAW’s Position Statement (2)(d) states that IACUCs may consider the use of a rabbit cage that is 14 inches high if performance standards are met. Permitting amorphous “performance indices” in this context is unnecessary and will result in reduced animal welfare. Given that 16 inches for cage height is a minimum, OLAW should retract its endorsement of institutional use of 14 inch cages. OLAW has repeatedly stated that “[c]ost saving or convenience alone is not sufficient justification to approve a departure from the minimum standards of the Guide.” (OLAW Adoption and Implementation Plan). OLAW’s willingness to accept reduced cage heights for rabbits in Position Statement (2)(d) because of “the necessity of cost-efficiency and the valid concerns of the community about program cost” conflicts with OLAW’s stated purpose in administering the updated version of the Guide. The European Union requires that rabbits under 10 weeks of age be provided with a minimum cage height of 15.7 inches, rabbits over ten weeks of age be provided with a minimum cage height of 17.7 inches, and rabbits weighing over 5 kilograms to be given 23.6 inches of cage height. OLAW’s suggestion that rabbits can be comfortably housed in cages at 14 inches is incongruous not only with OLAW’s stated purpose to improve animal welfare, but also with the updated edition of the Guide and international standards. Accordingly, ALDF urges OLAW to retract Position Statement 2(d), and instead require institutions to comply with the minimum cage height requirements for rabbits in Table 3.3.

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