Who makes sure research animals are treated well?

All these authorities require research proposals first be approved by a local animal care and use committee that looks out for the research animals’ welfare.

The U.S. has many laws and regulations that require research animals to be treated humanely. Treating animals well is an ethical imperative and the foundation of sound science. Animals that are sick or stressed are not good research subjects. There are four main sources of animal welfare oversight authority in the U.S.:

Animal Welfare Act (AWA)

The AWA regulates the care of many warm-blooded vertebrates (animals with an internal skeleton made of bones) including guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, dogs, cats, and non-human primates. Research laboratories and those who supply these animals for research must follow AWA regulations to provide them with appropriate food, housing, and veterinary care. The U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces the AWA through regular inspections of research labs and animal suppliers.

The AWA does not cover rats, mice, and birds that are bred for research, but most of these animals are covered by one of the other oversight authorities listed below.

Public Health Service (PHS) Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals

Most money for basic research on diseases comes from government grants. To qualify for government funds, institutions that conduct research with vertebrate animals must follow the PHS Policy. The Policy requires a comprehensive animal care and welfare program that follows the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. The PHS Policy is broader than the Animal Welfare Act because it also applies to rats, mice, and birds and to cold-blooded vertebrates such as fish and reptiles. If an institution fails to provide good care for its animals, it must give the money back to the government.

Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals

This is a handbook that provides expert advice on how to care for research animals. It is published by the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious organization that advises the government on scientific issues. The Guide is updated periodically by experts in laboratory animal medicine.

Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), International

AAALAC, International was founded in 1965 by veterinarians and scientists who wanted to give the public assurance that laboratory animal research was conducted professionally and humanely. AAALAC offers accreditation to institutions with high quality programs of laboratory animal care.

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