In response to the increasing attention paid to regulations and legislation involving animals, as well as escalating attacks by animal rights groups, the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine has issued a position statement on animal experimentation. The statement briefly discusses veterinarians' role in biomedical research involving animals and the philosophy behind such research. Of note is the ACLAM's stance on animal rights activists and how research should be regulated.
The college felt it was time to take a stand on certain issues, given the vital role that veterinarians play in research in the United States and that their ability to carry out this work is threatened.
"The public is generally unaware of the importance of animal experimentation in understanding biological systems (or) mechanisms of disease; the discovery of new medicines and vaccines; or the safety of medicines, products, and devices," said Dr. Mike Kastello, chair of the ACLAM's Government and Regulatory Affairs Committee. "Helping the public to understand this will be the benefit of the statement."
The most obvious threat to biomedical research is violence or other illegal activity sponsored by members of some anti-research groups. Just this past August, for example, animal rights activists claimed responsibility for bombing Chiron Corp., a biotechnology firm in Emeryville, Calif.
ACLAM's position statement "condemns the use of harassment, intimidation, violence, and other activities undertaken for the purpose of thwarting the research community and the life-saving work to which it is dedicated."
"Some in our group have been targeted, and we feel it's time to speak out and say not only do we think it's improper, but we condemn those acts of intimidation," said Dr. Dale Martin, president of the ACLAM.
He worries about the short- and long-term effects of attacks by the more radical groups. Violent tactics have increased in recent years. "Their targeting can appear to be completely random, which is what makes it most unnerving. No one in science can really make sense of why, where, or when people will be targeted," he said. "I think it is feasible that, over time, this can be a deterrent for folks going into science."
Dr. Martin says there are 101 "flavors" of animal rights groups, and while some are not terrorists and have good intentions, he thinks many have not thought the whole movement through. Animal experimentation, in large part, is responsible for the marvels of modern medicine and is essential for gaining further understanding of disease and developing new cures. "There are some very well-meaning people that have bought into the myth that it is feasible to get to these medical cures and products without animal experimentation," he said. "At this point, there is just not another option."
Animal rights groups, however, are not the only threat to biomedical research, according to the ACLAM. Less obvious, but still a worry, are legislation, regulation, litigation, and anti-research education efforts that attempt to impede legitimate |scientific endeavors involving laboratory animals.
"There are a lot of pressures under the name of animal welfare to make changes, yet, in fact, there might not be any scientific basis for the changes," Dr. Martin said. "We are definitely very much for animal welfare, but specifically opposed to legislation that adds regulatory burden that does not impact animal welfare."
The ACLAM advocates for performance-based approaches to improving animal welfare, which rely on improving outcomes. This is opposed to what Dr. Martin calls "engineering standards," which in ACLAM's opinion require elements with certain specifications that may or may not improve animal welfare.
As an example, Dr. Martin points to the "Policy on Environmental Enhancement for Nonhuman Primates," which the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was promoting in 1999. The policy included many engineering standards and minimum criteria for housing and enrichment of research primates. The USDA ultimately did not implement the policy because the Office of Management and Budget blocked it. The OMB returned the draft policy to APHIS with instructions to reconsider the substantive issues it raised and the agency's use of a policy document to avoid formal rule making.
If the policy had been implemented, some exemplary programs with healthy, happy primates would not have been in compliance, Dr. Martin said. For these programs, enforcing the policy would have increased the regulatory burden without creating benefit for the animals.
Because of situations such as this, the ACLAM's statement "supports regulation of the care and use of animals used, or intended for use, in experimentation that is based on science and applies professional judgment and performance standards."
At press time, the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee was planning on discussing whether to recommend that the AVMA endorse the ACLAM position statement on animal experimentation. The committee meeting was slated for early November.