ANIMAL RIGHTS advocates are waging a tough campaign here for an ordinance to regulate the treatment of animals used for research. If passed, it could be one of the most far-reaching measures to protect laboratory animals in the country. The issue has long been controversial in this city that is home to some 13 medical-research institutes. But it is also a hot issue nationwide as concern grows over the treatment of research animals.
``I think we are blazing a new trail,'' says Ole Anderson, of the Cambridge Committee for Responsible Research, the animal-rights organization supporting the ordinance. The legislation would create a commissioner of laboratory animals to oversee their care in all research institutions and make inspections.
It would also strengthen guidelines for the animal-care committees of each federally funded institution - required under the 1985 Animal Welfare Act (AWA) - that monitor animal use in research projects. It is one of five proposed ordinances that will be voted on next month.
Other provisions in the animal-rights ordinance include:
Close monitoring of animals undergoing painful experiments.
Humane methods of euthanasia.
Sufficient space for animals to move around in cages.
Social contact for primates.
The movement to protect lab animals is not new here. Two years ago, Cambridge passed legislation to ban two kinds of commercial animal testing, called the LD-50 and Draize tests. Such tests are used to study the toxicity of household chemicals.
Despite strong support for an ordinance, however, the medical-research community is voicing objections. Research advocates say animal research is crucial in the fight to find cures for human diseases. They also contend that animals are not being abused in Cambridge.
``There is no animal abuse. Why do they want to regulate animal research?'' asks Ron Suduiko, who is on the community relations staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
He and other research advocates point to a blue-ribbon committee report on the city's research labs. The City Council requested the study to determine whether animals were being abused. In the report, two of the three committee members concluded that there were only minor instances of abuse.
But according to the third committee member, Steven Wise, president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, those instances were not insignificant and point to a larger issue concerning animal-care committees. Such panels are biased, Dr. Wise says, with most members having a vested interest in animal research. ``To say that they are stacked in favor of experimenters is putting it mildly,'' he says.
Wise and animal-rights advocates support a city ordinance that would require all committees to have at least one outside person interested in animal rights. The ordinance would further require privately funded institutions to have animal-care committees, in addition to those receiving federal funds.
Wise also faults lax federal law. Many animals, such as rodents, birds, horses, and amphibians, are not covered by the AWA. And US regulations fail to spell out what constitutes animal cruelty, he says.
Research advocates say US guidelines are sufficient to protect animals. Furthermore, researchers contend that animal-care committees are not biased. They say committee members - many of whom are veterinarians - do have an genuine interest in animal welfare.
Having an animal-rights advocate on each care panel would not create a fair system for judging a research experiment, says MIT's Mr. Suduiko.
``While they say they favor reasonable research, they then set themselves as arbiters of what reasonable research is,'' Suduiko says. Such animal-rights advocates really just want to put a stop to all research involving animals, he contends.
These kinds of generalizations, however, hurt mainstream animal-rights groups who support research but also want to protect animals from unnecessary abuse, says Martha Armstrong of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Strengthening animal-care committee guidelines will help open research practices to greater public scrutiny, she says.
``We do as a caring society have an interest in how animals in research are used,'' Ms. Armstrong says.