95% of Lab Animals Have No Legal Protection From Cruelty

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A federal anti-cruelty law called the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) gives some protections to warm-blooded animals used in research laboratories. That is, to 5 percent of them. It leaves the rest - rats, mice, and birds - out in the cold.

For the animals it does cover, the "AWA requires researchers to minimize animal pain, use pain relief, set appropriate housing for species, and provide appropriate veterinary care," according to an Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) white paper. The other side of that looking glass is that for 95% of animals in labs, researchers aren't legally required to provide decent housing or any anesthetic or veterinary care at all.

There is now a bill in Congress to extend the AWA to protect rats, birds, and mice. Please sign the petition at the bottom to support it.

RELATED: NIH Spends Our Money to Torture Animals For No Good Reason

Right now, experiments using rats, mice, and birds are not subject to the "3 R's", which "are implicit in the AWA": replacement, reduction and refinement. "Replacement" means that unless the experiment must be done on an animal, it should be performed on a replacement like a computer simulation. "Reduction" means that the experiment uses the smallest number of animals possible. "Refinement" means that the experiment has been designed to minimize the animals' pain and suffering.

When a scientist sets out to conduct an experiment on AWA-covered animals, she must get approval from an internal oversight committee (IACUC) that will ask about compliance with the 3 R's. If she wants to experiment on mice instead, the AWA doesn't require her to submit to IACUC oversight. There is no law holding her to the 3 R's: she can use mice where a computer model would be just as useful, cause the mice as much pain as she wants to, and use as many of them as she wants to.

RELATED: University of Wisconsin Cited for Animal Welfare Violations

The gaping hole in the AWA has had tragic results for animals. Here are just two examples of experiments on rats that IACUCs and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approved and taxpayers underwrote, as I reported on Care2:

  • Drug-induced arthritis in rats makes exercise harder

As In Defense of Animals points out, by injecting "rats' knees with a substance that causes arthritis," the University of New England ruined "the best part of these animals' miserable lives" because they could no longer run on their wheels. Why did NIH grant public money to the school for such a stupid and heartless study? Here's a clue: it used a kind of grant meant to "expose students to research." Rather than training the next generation of vivisectionists on projects that could at least hypothetically help improve human lives, the government and the university underwrote this joke of an experiment because they could - the animals involved were rats, and therefore without legal protection.

  • Rat bitter-taste nerves appear to work

This experiment was an exercise in revealing the obvious. In Defense of Animals describes it:

Inspired by the incredible variety in bitter substances, Ohio State University experimenters decided to see what would happen if they cut a couple of the nerves that connect taste buds to the brain. The experimenters slit the throats of ten rats so that one nerve could be cut and punctured the eardrums of ten other rats so that the other nerve could be severed. The experimenters performed both procedures on the ten unluckiest rats. The ten "luckiest" rats just had their throats slit and their eardrums punctured, with the experimenters leaving their "bitter taste" nerves intact. How merciful.

What did these experimenters learn? The nerve that was more sensitive to bitter stimuli was also more important in learning to avoid bitter stimuli - go figure.

AWA protection may have helped the animals tortured in these experiments. Perhaps they didn't undergo IACUC review because the subjects were rats, and if they had, would have been laughed out of the room before they could even ask the government for money.

RELATED: Animal Welfare Act Does Not Protect All Animals: An Activist Spotlight

Sadly, AWA coverage doesn't always count for much. Two experiments conducted on animals the AWA does protect made the following findings:

  • Alligators' sounds and anatomy differ from humans'
  • Labs are stressful places for monkeys

So AWA coverage is no guarantee that an animal won't be made to suffer for no good reason. But it does count for something. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Sciences - the trade group for animal experimenters - has called excluding rats, mice, and birds from the AWA "ethically indefensible," which shows that at the very least the AWA can get vivisectors talking about the ethics of what they do to animals.

As ALDF notes in its white paper, "like humans, rats, mice, and birds experience pain, fear, distress, and even joy. In fact, research indicates that these animals experience emotions that scientists once thought only existed in humans, including empathy." Not protecting these sensitive animals undermines vivisectors' claims to treat their subjects' as humanely as possible.

Excluding 95% of lab animals from welfare protections makes a joke of the AWA and exposes vivisectors' shameful, blatant indifference to the welfare of the animals at their mercy. Rats, mice and birds deserve as much protection from pain and suffering as we are politically able to provide. Please sign the petition below to encourage Congress to amend the AWA to serve its basic purpose: protecting animals used for experimentation.

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ALL of these ANIMALS are taken from the wild to be CAGED UP AND EXPERIMENTED(ABUSED) for DECADES...locked up,tortured(MENTALLY PHYSICALLY) for DECADES...they even DIE from the ''EXPERIMENTS'' BABIES BORN in LABS...CAGED up since BIRTH til DEATH...APES MONKEYS CHIMPS alot Animals LIVE for ALOT OF YEARS...imagine them being CAGED up and ABUSED for 20 30 40 even 50 years...and if they escape...they get KILLED...PLEASE PEOPLE...LETS DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS...WE CAN!

March 17 2013 at 4:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


December 28 2012 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

All animals need to be protected. There is no need for pain and discomfort. Yes, I would like to get all animal testing to stop. Let's use people instead.


December 28 2012 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Feel free to never take medication or get surgery.

December 28 2012 at 1:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Only sick, twisted, evil, sadistic people torture animals.

December 28 2012 at 12:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You have to be a sick, twisted, evil person to torture animals.

December 28 2012 at 12:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Animal testing makes me sick to my stomach. That sad opposite side is that natural, non-animal tested products are very expensive. It's a vicious cycle.

December 28 2012 at 9:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can't even fathom the cruel acts human's do just because they are stuck in their jaded torturous ways. Either retire if you can't use a pc to simulate the testings or you yourself should volunteer to be subjected to these DISGUSTING arbitrary testings; and if you feel that you ( the scientists) are too good for that type of experimentation then you need some serious mental counselling because you are a disconnected worthless %$*@. This is the reason I haven't donated money or done walks to the breast cancer or other funds because I know this is the very reason where the money is being spent. If it was made clear that these animals were kept and treated kindly with dignity and respect while crucial and most often vital testing needed to arise, that would be a different story all together. but let's face it, i think these bastards are taking some sick pleasure out of causing pain to others because their own lives suck.

December 28 2012 at 8:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to KaDiE's comment

that is sad for you. perhaps if you did your research you would know that 99% of store bought products are tested on animals. Do you take any medications? Do you brush your teeth, put on deodorant, wash your hair? All of those products contain components that have been tested on animals.

December 28 2012 at 9:55 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I sincerely hope you never get sick and need medical intervention, I wouldn't want your morals to be compromised when you need treatment.

December 29 2012 at 6:15 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Where do we sign?

December 28 2012 at 6:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This article, if you can call it that, is so far from the truth! True, the AWA does not cover rats, mice and birds, but that does not mean there use in research goes unchecked. Most research facilities are accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). This is an international organization that inspects and accredits laboratory facilities that conduct animal research every 3 years. They have published guidelines on Animal Care and Use that have specific requirements for housing, feeding, analgesia, etc. for all types of animals used in research that labs must adhere to if they want to obtain and maintain their accreditation. In fact, the IACUC (Institutional Care and Use Committee) to which the author refers was implemented by the AAALAC and all protocols involving all species if animals must first be approved by the IACUC. And before the argument is made that this IACUC is made up only of employees of the company who are therefore in cahoots with what the company wants and will therefore approve anything, the membership of the IACUC requires that at a minimum there is a veterinarian (usually the chair), a scientist, a non-scientist and a member of the community in which the lab is located. No member of the committee is permitted to be paid for their participation on the committee. All members must approve the protocol for research and if the scientist submitting the protocol for approval is also a member of the IACUC, they cannot vote on the approval of that protocol. According to AAALACs website, over 850 companies, universities, hospitals, government agencies and other research institutions in 36 countries are accredited by AAALAC. I can tell you that any laboratory doing credible research is accredited by AAALAC and all animals are well cared for.

I have to ask all of you claiming animal research is cruel, do you use toothpaste, soap, household cleaners, cosmetics or do you take any medications (prescription or over the counter)? Do you have a pet who you have vaccinated, use flea and tick preparations on and give routine heart worm medication to? If so, you have supported animal research because all of these products and more are regulated by the government (in the US as we'll as other countries) and in order to be able to market those products, the government requires certain tests to be conducted in animals. Even those products that advertise "product has not been tested on animals" are misleading you that no animals were used. True, the final product that they sell may not have been tested on animals, but I guarantee you that each individual ingredient (with the exception of water) was at one time tested on animals before it was permitted to be marketed.

Don't just blindly follow those with the loudest voices backed by the fewest facts (eg. PETA). Do your own research. A good place to start is the AAALAC website.

December 28 2012 at 1:53 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to paunicorn517's comment

Thank you for being a voice of reason. I manage a company that manufactures aquatic housing for research. Yes, fish, frogs, urchins and other species are used. We re-outfitted with a facility that was under pressure because two frogs had died without explanation. AAALAC and the IACUC's are very powerful forces at the facilities because funding money is at stake. Another omitted fact from the article is that yeast, round worms, fruit flies, bacteria and a host of other animal species are used. In order to get a treatment to the people, it has to be tested up the animal chain. I just went through a cancer journey with my husband (he didn't make it), and we thank all those animals who sacrificed. So, I have one thing to say to the people who think animal testing for medical research should be banned: Don't go clamoring for treatment when you get ill. You will be a hypocrite.

December 28 2012 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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