Stricter regulation sought over labs using animals in research. Proposal in Cambridge, Mass., reflects goals of national drive

Fresh controversy is brewing between animal protection groups and medical researchers over a proposal that would strengthen regulation of the use of animals in laboratory research. Under consideration by the Cambridge City Council is an ordinance that would establish a municipal board to regulate the use of animals in research, and the research itself.

The proposed ordinance would require that:

Animals receive proper veterinary care.

Sickness and injury not related to the intended experiment be treated.

Pain endured by animals undergoing procedures be regularly monitored.

Appropriate anesthesia and pain killers be administered.

The proposal, sponsored by the Cambridge Committee for Responsible Research, a citizens' group, is not an isolated attempt. It is part of a growing national movement with goals that range from reducing pain suffered by laboratory animals as much as possible to the complete prohibition of their use in such experimentation. It has raised concern and generated opposition in the medical community.

``This type of ordinance would be punitive; it would stifle research which is helpful to both humans and animals,'' says John Moses, chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's animal care committee.

But animal-rights activists say existing regulation is not enough. Under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), inspectors are not able to check the condition of animals not covered by the act: birds, rats, mice, amphibians, horses, and some other domestic animals.

While the AWA and the US Public Health Service's Guide to the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals have done much to improve conditions for these laboratory animals, says Sara Romer, a lawyer who represents the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But, she adds, a history of poor funding and low staffing levels has made the rules practically unenforcable.

``Given the present federal funding restrictions, it's unlikely funding will increase enough to take care of all the deficiencies,'' she says.

Opponents of the proposed ordinance, including Anneliz Hannon of the Massachusetts Society for Medical Research, argue that its definition of animals as ``all sentient creatures'' would ``bring regulation down to the level of amoeba, and into high school classrooms.''

They contend that the proposal is unneeded because no abuse is occurring. But, says Ms. Romer, ``the public doesn't know that, and that's what the proposal intends to do - tell the public what's going on.''

A great deal of the research around the Boston area takes place behind the doors of its many universities and in commercial and private research laboratories.

Some animal research advocates say the proposed ordinance would simply add another level of bureaucracy.

``We're already regulated by several federal groups, like the USDA [United States Department of Agriculture] and state groups like the Animal Rescue League. And now they want to regulate us some more on the city level,'' Ms. Hannan says.

``Some awful things were going on in labs across the country,'' concedes John Moses of MIT. But this was uncovered, he says, and subsequent publicity resulted in a 1985 revision of guidelines on the treatment of animals. ``We've been working very hard to comply [with these standards], and I think we've already accomplished that,'' he says.

Despite this progress, Hannon says, animal-rights activists target a new group of animals every year, and another restriction on research is put into place. ``What they don't seem to realize,'' she says, ``is if there's no animal research, there's no aids research, no cancer research. It's a necessary evil.''

While the Cambridge Committee is able to cite a few specific instances of abuse, some of which continue despite attempts at self-regulation, it is unable to provide national or regional statistics on the level or extent of animal abuse in research projects.

Sara Romer says this lack of specific evidence ``is why the ordinance is needed - to make those statistics available to the public. If there isn't any abuse going on, that's good. But the public needs to know that.''

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