New concern for lab animals

It is heartening that American interest in the welfare of laboratory animals has risen to new heights. The US Senate appears poised to pass one bill on the subject; this past weekend a national conference was held in New Jersey; and a major effort in California now is being made to ban the use of lost pets for scientific experiments.

Aim of the congressional measure, sponsored by Senators Orrin G. Hatch and Edward M. Kennedy, is to study the use of live dogs and other animals in medical and other scientific experiments. Under the proposal the National Institutes of Health would be asked to find out how many animals have been used for these purposes over the past five years, whether the number is rising or declining, and how humane are the conditions under which the experiments are being done. Additionally, NIH is to find out what alternative methods exist to the use of live animals. A report is due in 18 months from date of enactment of the measure.

This measure actually is weaker than one introduced by Sen. Bob Dole, which would have established improved standards for laboratory animals. But most witnesses who testified on the Dole measure two weeks ago before a Senate subcommittee hearing said that more study was needed. Representatives of the scientific community have been particularly concerned that establishing guidelines at this time could seriously jeopardize some medical research. Additionally, some witnesses have held that conditions today under which experiments are carried out are far more humane than in the past.

We now may have a government-mandated opportunity to find out, through the proposed NIH study. That is welcome. When use of live animals is adjudged necessary to obtain scientific data conditions should be as humane as possible. When possible, alternative methods of testing should be used. And alternative tests need to be devised for those areas of research in which none now exist.

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