Animal Testing and the Law

The use of animals in laboratories often amounts to legally-sanctioned animal abuse. The secrecy with which animals in laboratories are kept from the public eye is no accident: an estimated 100 million animals are exploited in biomedical, aeronautic, automotive, military, agricultural, and cognitive research and in consumer product testing—95% of these animals are not protected by the law.

Watch our interview with Paul Locke, of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing, about what is being done to replace the use of animals in laboratories.

Animal Welfare Act (AWA) – A federal law that addresses the standard of care animals receive at research facilities. Yet it excludes roughly 95% of the animals tested upon (such as rats, mice, birds, fish, and reptiles) and provides only minimal protection for the rest. Labs are not required to report non-AWA protected animals.

Public Health Service (PHS) – The PHS oversees the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC conducts infectious disease research on nonhuman primates, rabbits, mice, and other animals, while FDA requirements mean exploitation of animals in pharmaceutical research. The PHS requires only written assurance of compliance through the Office of Laboratory Welfare (OLAW). When a facility is found deficient, OLAW takes little action, has no mandated follow-up, or on-site inspection.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – With only 120 inspectors, the USDA oversees more than 12,000 facilities involved in research, exhibition, breeding, or dealing of animals. Federally-owned facilities, like the Department of Defense, are not inspected by the USDA–which is the agency charged with enforcing the AWA through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Penalties for non-compliance are often virtually inconsequential in comparison to massive research revenues.

Chester the bunny

Chester was rescued from a lab.

Other regulatory bodies charged with protecting animals, such as the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) and mandatory Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC), are self-chosen, self-policing bodies with little or no punitive power.

Did You Know?

  • Most animals in laboratories are not legally protected.
  • There aren’t nearly enough inspectors to properly inspect research facilities.
  • Most inspectors aren’t empowered to do anything consequential about violations.
  • Many labs pass inspection even where appalling legal violations occur.
  • Alternatives to animal testing are more effective, more reliable, and more humane.

Instances of animal cruelty in laboratory testing are prolific and commonplace. Animals in labs are routinely mutilated and subjected to physical and psychological torment every day of their lives. Animals are frequently restrained and cut open without painkillers. Much of this torture is legal.

Legal tests include burning, poisoning, starving, forced smoking, mutilating, blinding, electrocuting, drowning, and dissecting without painkillers. For decades, cats, dogs, primates, birds, rodents, horses, goats, pigs, and other animals have been experimented on with these measures.

Given the climate of poor regulatory oversight, many animals are also abused, neglected, and harmed in ways that violate the law. In 2012, monkeys were boiled alive when sent through scalding-hot mechanical cage washers, while others overheated to death in poor laboratory conditions. Other examples include open-heart surgeries without painkillers and unauthorized amputations.

Models for Improvement

Texas Tech Cat

Cat being experimented on at Texas Tech Laboratory

Laboratory testing on chimpanzees (our closest living relative) is banned in the United Kingdom. The U.K. has not licensed animal testing for cosmetics for nearly fifteen years. Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany have also banned the use of animals in cosmetic testing. As of 2013, no animals may be used in cosmetic testing in the European Union pursuant to E.U. regulations. In the U.S., California passed the first state law in 2000 (Section 1834.9) limiting product-testing where alternative non-animal tests are available. Other states, like New Jersey and New York followed California’s model.In 2007, the National Research Council issued a report on toxicity testing that recommended a move away from the use of animals in laboratory experiments.

Similarly, in some U.S. states, students can refuse to participate in school activities (including dissection) that harm animals. Right-to-choose states include California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. Other states, like Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Mexico, have similar policies. Maryland mandates students have alternatives.

The Three R’s: Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement

Animals in laboratories are failed by the regulatory bodies set in place to protect them. Millions of animals are tested on without any relief from pain or basic care. Legal requirements (like providing painkillers) are regularly overridden by claiming “scientific necessity.” Indisputable evidence acknowledged by the FDA and the pharmaceutical industry prove that animal testing in drugs used by humans is unreliable. According to the FDA, 92% of drugs tested fail to meet the standards for human use, and this rate is growing, not improving. Despite legal requirements to do so, many facilities don’t adequately look for alternatives to animal-based tests.

Many scientists believe that in vitro testing is scientifically superior to the savage testing on animals. The same is true for radiation exposure tests and cosmetic testing. Technology such as MRI, EEG, PET, and CT scans provide alternatives to cutting into the brains of cats and monkeys. Cancer antibody testing is better conducted with human cells than by injecting mice with cancer. Many medical schools are eliminating animal testing because of its unreliability.

What You Can Do

  • Contact your legislators and ask that laws protecting animals be enhanced and followed. Contact local medical schools and ask that they drop the use of animal testing in their labs. Contact your alma mater, urging it to adopt humane teaching methods.
  • Educate friends and family on the cruelty of animal-based testing and its dangers to science.
  • Avoid commercial products from companies that test on animals. Use alternatives.

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