Guinea pig, hamster, & rabbit numbers also low, but monkey use was up.
Mice & rats? Who knows?
WASHINGTON, D.C.––Are U.S. laboratories using more animals than ever before, or fewer, at least of most species?
Laboratory animal use data from 2016 released on June 9, 2017 shows record reported lows in use of dogs, cats, and farmed animals other than pigs and sheep. Use of guinea pigs was the third lowest for any year in the 50 years since the federal Animal Welfare Act, originally called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, began requiring labs to record and report their animal use. Fewer hamsters and rabbits were experimented upon than in any year except 2015.
Total reported animal use up, but still 2nd lowest ever
The overall total of 820,812 animals used in U.S. labs was also the lowest for any year except 2015.
On the other hand, the overall total of animals and tallies of every reported species except dogs, cats, and farmed animals other than pigs and sheep blipped upward.
Most significantly, the species most used in laboratories––rats and mice––have been exempted, along with birds, from reporting requirements throughout the history of the Animal Welfare Act, by reason of having been exempted by regulatory amendment from the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service definition of “animal.”
The Helms Amendment
The American Anti-Vivisection Society in September 1998 won a verdict from the U.S. Court of Appeals, later affirmed without comment by the U.S. Supreme Court, that Congress had intended the Animal Welfare Act to protect rats, mice, and birds, along with other species. But former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina), just before his retirement, won a late amendment to the 2002 Farm Bill which made permanent the exclusion of rats, mice, and birds from the Animal Welfare Act protection and tracking requirements.
Accordingly, animal advocates have for decades tried to estimate the use of rats, mice, and birds by various other means, most often by projecting to the whole of the laboratory sector the ratios of rats, mice, and birds used by the relatively few laboratories that voluntarily report the numbers they use of all species.
SAEN: “More animals are being used”
The Cincinnati-based organization Stop Animal Experimentation Now interpreted the 2016 data reported by USDA-APHIS to mean that “More animals – nearing 1 million, with big increases in non-human primates – are being used in animal experiments nationwide,” citing the 6.9% overall rise in numbers of reported species from 2015, without noting that the totals used of most reported species were close to the all-time lows, and except for non-human primates, were barely half or even a third of the documented highs, all reached before 1992.
The reported numbers of non-human primates used jumped by 10,000, to the third highest total on record. But non-human primates are the only reported species category to even approach the frequency of use in experiments reported during the last three and a half decades of the 20th century.
PETA also projects increased overall animal use
The most comprehensive attempt made in recent years to estimate total laboratory animal use in U.S. labs was produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals investigators Justin Goodman, Alka Chandna, and Katherine Roe.
Publishing their findings in the February 25, 2015 online edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics, Goodman, Chandna, and Roe projected, based on an analysis of “use of all vertebrate animals by the top institutional recipients of National Institutes of Health research funds over a 15-year period,” that there had been a “statistically significant 72.7% increase in the use of animals at these U.S. facilities during this time period—driven primarily by increases in the use of mice.”
U.K. & Ireland report similar trends
British Home Office and Irish Department of Health data on animal testing has shown similar trends.
Overall, the number of scientific procedures using animals in the United Kingdom increased from 2.71 million in 1995 to 4.12 million in 2012, according to data published by the Home Office in July 2014.
Restoring rats, mice, & birds to definition of “animal”
PETA also made the most recent serious effort to win USDA-APHIS regulatory protection of rats, mice, and birds––any or all.
U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg in December 2013 rejected a PETA lawsuit which would have required USDA-APHIS to produce care requirements for birds.
PETA “made what the judge called ‘some strong arguments,’ but ultimately failed,” wrote Michael Doyle of the McClatchy News Service’s Washington D.C. bureau.
“With surprising regularity,” wrote Boasberg, “the agency has repeatedly set, missed, and then rescheduled deadlines for the publication of proposed bird-specific regulations.”
Judge ruled USDA doesn’t have to act
Explained Doyle, “Judge Boasberg set the stage this way: Under the Animal Welfare Act, dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, guinea pigs, hamsters, rabbits, and marine mammals are all governed by their own unique regulatory standards. Other animals are protected by a set of general standards. These rules ensure that the animals are treated humanely by setting minimum standards for matters such as veterinary care, potable water, housing, and lighting. USDA has not, so far, promulgated any regulations specific to birds.
“Briefly put, Judge Boasberg concluded the Agriculture Department’s action — or, in this case, inaction — is a matter of agency discretion. Case dismissed.”
The anti-regulatory views of U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican majorities in both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives appear to have discouraged animal advocacy organizations from pursuing action on behalf of laboratory rats, mice, and birds under the present regime.