Protecting lab animals

Legal protection for laboratory animals is long overdue. The United States lags behind many West European countries, including Britain and Sweden, in adopting legislation regulating live animal experimentation. Currently no effective safeguards exist protecting animals from mistreatment.

The government agency entrusted with inspecting labs, the United States Department of Agriculture, lacks the funds and staff to check each laboratory adequately. As a result, the United States government has funded research in which animals are improperly handled and sujected to extreme stress and pain.

Adoption of a bill introduced in Congress - HR 6245 - would protect animals from abusive handling and experimentation. The legislation was specifically designed not to interfere with scientific enterprise but to ensure that laboratory techniques keep pace with advancing technology.

If passed, the bill would require federally funded laboratories to meet much higher standards than are currently enforced or lose their research grants. In addition these institutions would have to appoint a lay person outside the laboratory to monitor the welfare of the animals.

These are not unreasonable requirements and should be established if the scientific community is to avoid the embarrassing ethical questions being raised by current research practices.

Most important, the bill would promote the development of alternatives to the use of laboratory animals. Cell cultures as well as nonorganic methods such as computers and mathematical models now are being considered as substitutes for live animals. But these projects need further government support if they are to succeed.

Meanwhile, to reduce laboratory cruelty, legislation is needed to ensure that minimum standards are fostered and maintained. These standards, though controversial among the scientific community, were established privately by academics and researchers not only in the interest of animals but for the sake of achieving the best scientific data possible.

If research on live animals is considered necessary, then it should be conducted in the most enlightened and caring ways available.

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