Monday, October 9, 2000
By Wilson Valentin
The fight over changes to the Animal Welfare Act and the future of laboratory testing in America has taken on broader dimensions, with Congress stepping into the fray.
Sen. Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican and influential member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on Friday added language to a bill outlining the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2001 budget that effectively blocks the agency's recent settlement with an animal-rights group.
The settlement would have expanded protection to include rats, mice and birds used in medical experiments, a move that some research institutions say could have crippled live-saving medical research.
"It's a welcome development," said Dennis O'Shea, a spokesperson for Johns Hopkins University, which had tried to intervene in the lawsuit.
O'Shea said Cochran's rider will "give the research community a chance to make its case." Earlier, Johns Hopkins and others said the judge presiding over the case paid little attention to their concerns about the settlement.
The group that forced the USDA into settlement talks by suing the agency, the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation, remains defiant. "We are appalled at how far some biomedical trade associations will go to avoid their legal and moral responsibility for the welfare of laboratory animals," said John McArdle, director of the group.
Origins of a Fight
At issue is the USDA's settlement of a case brought by ARDF in May 1999 seeking extended protections for laboratory animals under the AWA. Hopkins' attempt to intervene in the case was rejected by U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle on the grounds that the university was not a part of the original suit and had no right to intervene.
Under the original rules of the AWA, non-human primates were one of the main species protected.
As outlined by the USDA last week, the settlement requires legal standards for food, water, housing and pain relief for the contested laboratory animals. It also requires scientists to consider alternatives to the use of rats, mice and birds.
Hopkins maintains that the increased regulation will make laboratory experiments with these animals virtually impossible to conduct.
The National Association for Biomedical Research says rats and mice, and to a lesser extent birds, are widely used in research. The NABR also estimates that 23 million rats and mice were used in 1999 and made up 95 percent of all laboratory animals. Those numbers are expected to grow by 50 percent in the next three to five years - with the animals used in genetic testing leading the pack.
The current version of the appropriations bill was approved by Congress
last week and will now go before the House and the Senate for a vote. If
passed, it then goes to President Clinton for final approval. The bill
places the USDA's projected budget for fiscal year 2001 at $65 billion.