At a news conference here today, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation's largest animal protection organization, called on scientists and government officials to join the organization's efforts to work towards ending pain and distress in the 20 million or more animals used annually in research by 2020.
"Congress amended the Animal Welfare Act in 1985 in large part to limit pain and distress in laboratory animals," said Andrew Rowan, Ph.D., senior vice president for The HSUS. "Fifteen years later, the United States has made some progress towards this goal, but much more can and should be done. It's time for animal protectionists, government officials, scientists, and animal caregivers to make an urgent priority of working together to define, document and end pain and distress, while continuing vigorous scientific inquiry."
HSUS researchers analyzed reports issued to the U.S. Department of Agriculture by facilities that conduct animal research and found evidence that pain and distress are under-reported and reported inconsistently. In a report issued today, The HSUS concluded that:
Research institutions in the United States in general fail to report or under-report research animal pain and distress. The top 50 U.S. non-profit research institutions (in terms of NIH funding) reported that a total of less than one percent of animals used in research were subjected to unalleviated pain and distress (defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as Column E) during 1996 and 1997. The HSUS found specific examples where USDA reports and journal articles appear to present contradictory information about pain and distress. In each case, the research institutions reported zero animals in Column E during certain years. Paradoxically, published reports of research at those institutions that was most likely conducted during the relevant years describe procedures and conditions that almost certainly caused significant pain and distress. No mention is made in any of these reports of using drugs to alleviate pain or distress.
Wide variations exist between states in reporting the numbers of animals used in painful procedures without the administration of pain-relieving drugs. For comparison, Maryland is one of the top states in the country for the use of animals in research; facilities in Maryland report that 6.5 percent of animals used in painful procedures in 1996 did not receive pain-relieving drugs. Yet that same year, facilities in Virginia reported that 0.5 percent of animals used in painful procedures did not receive pain-relieving drugs. Iowa (63.7 percent), Kansas (40.2 percent) and Washington State (32.3 percent) were among the states reporting high numbers of animals in Column E. These variations are unexplained and are most likely due to variations in thoroughness and accuracy rather than actual differences in procedures.
Nations that have more stringent reporting requirements report much higher proportions of animals used in painful procedures. For example, in 1997 eight percent of animals used in the U.S. were reported to experience pain and/or distress. By comparison, in The Netherlands, where government officials have made a concerted effort to attempt to classify research animal use by pain category, 46.0 percent of animals experienced moderate to severe pain and/or distress in 1994. In Canada, 28.8 percent of the animals used in research in 1996 were reported to experience moderate to severe pain and/or distress.
"Surveys show that the public's support for animal research drops substantially when the animals experience pain and distress. Despite this public concern and existing laws that seek to limit pain and distress, progress towards ending pain and distress has been disappointingly slow," said Martin Stephens, Ph.D., vice president of animal research issues for The HSUS. "The Humane Society of the United States urges scientists, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institutes of Health to join us in urgently working to end pain and distress by 2020."
In an initiative launched last year, The HSUS outlined several steps towards ending all significant pain and distress in research animals by 2020. They include:
- Develop a technical report on animal pain and distress. An international group of experts convened by The HSUS and including laboratory animal veterinarians, animal behaviorists, physiologists, neurologists, veterinary anesthesiologists, philosophers and others will prepare a comprehensive report to be completed this year.
- Work with Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, which have a mandate to minimize pain and distress under the Animal Welfare Act, to cooperate and collaborate on efforts to end pain and distress.
- Encourage the USDA to revise its pain and distress reporting system to allow discrimination between little or no pain and/or distress, moderate pain and/or distress, and severe pain and/or distress.
- Encourage the development and implementation of "best practice" guidelines covering specific techniques and research areas by urging institutions to share their efforts to reduce pain and distress.
- Encourage the inclusion of mice, rats and birds among the animals regulated under the Animal Welfare Act.
- Encourage increased funding for efforts to minimize and end pain and distress.