Denver — Committees that are federally mandated to review, approve, and monitor the use of animals in experiments—called Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC)—are dominated by animal research interests, according to a study presented today (Wednesday April 2) at the 2014 Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R) IACUC Conference in Denver.
Using the federal Freedom of Information Act, researchers from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine obtained the current IACUC rosters of the 25 largest institutional recipients of National Institutes of Health funds, which includes prominent universities and research centers.
The rosters revealed that, on average, 63 percent of IACUCs are composed of animal experimenters, 17 percent are veterinarians (most of whom conduct or facilitate animal experiments), 10 percent are nonscientist members of the institution, and 10 percent are members of the public. Ninety-seven percent of IACUC chairpersons are animal experimenters.
The preponderance of animal research interests on IACUCs—essentially 80 percent of members are animal experimenters and laboratory veterinarians—is potentially a contributing source of deficiencies in the IACUC oversight system documented by researchers and government audits, including committee bias in favor of approving as many as 98 percent of experimental protocols, in spite of their serious inadequacies. Such an imbalance also likely contributed to previous reports from the few public IACUC members that they feel their input, which is required by law, is marginalized. Because U.S. IACUCs employ a majority voting system, arithmetic alone places the ultimate authority of the committees in the hands of animal researchers.
"The bias we observed in favor of appointing animal experimenters and laboratory veterinarians to IACUCs means the decks are always stacked against animals, modern non-animal research methods are given short shrift, and the input of an increasingly critical public is being marginalized," says study co-author Dr. Lawrence Hansen, a professor of neuroscience and pathology at the University of California–San Diego School of Medicine.
Study co-author Dr. Alka Chandna, a senior laboratory oversight specialist at PETA who presented the research in Denver, says, "IACUC composition at these and other facilities needs a drastic overhaul to ensure that input from people who don't have a vested interest in animal use is more fairly reflected in deliberations about publicly funded experiments on animals."
While U.S. regulations don't require that a balance of IACUC members be maintained, in Sweden and Australia one-half and one-third, respectively, of animal research oversight committees must be composed of non-affiliated laypersons and animal welfare experts.
A copy of the research poster that was presented at the PRIM&R conference is available upon request. For more information, please visit PETA.org.