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Rats, Mice, and Birds and the Animal Welfare Act
In the September 2000 issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, I argued for the inclusion of laboratory rats, mice, and birds under provisions of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). This act sets humane standards for animals used in biomedical experimentation, but these three species are excluded despite the fact that they comprise 90 percent of all animals used. Recent actions have been taken on this issue that temporarily maintain the status quo of exclusion.
On 25 September 2000, a legal suit brought by the Alternatives Research Development Fund was settled out of court when the U.S. Department of Agriculture agreed that the AWA enforcement regulations should be extended to rats, mice, and birds. This was a significant victory heralded by the animal protection movement and some sections of the scientific community. Federal Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle dismissed motions by pro-animal research groups to block this agreement.
But the tide soon turned. On 11 October, a last-minute amendment to the USDA appropriations bill submitted by the Senate Appropriations Committee chair Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) precluded the department from spending any funds in the coming fiscal year to effect this change. This amendment had been drafted by the National Association for Biomedical Research and passed to the University of Mississippi to be forwarded to Cochran. This now congressionally approved amendment postponed for a year any action to implement the legal agreement. USDA plans to initiate the formal rule-making process for rats, mice, and birds by 1 October 2001.
F. Barbara Orlans
Senior Research Fellow
Kennedy Institute of Ethics