About Animal Welfare Act

Early Attempts to Right the Wrong

In 1989, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) filed a joint petition with the USDA requesting that the agency remove the exemption of birds, mice, and rats. The USDA, as expected, denied the petition. In response, ALDF and HSUS filed a successful lawsuit against the USDA, which was later denied on a legal technicality.

AAVS Actions

In 1998, inspired by our success in animal welfare reform within the National Institutes of Health, AAVS affiliate, the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation (ARDF), and others filed a new petition to the USDA. In 1999, ARDF and two additional plaintiffs, a psychology student and InVitro International, a company that develops non- animal alternative test methods, filed a lawsuit against the USDA.

2000 Victory for Birds, Rats, and Mice

On September 28, 2000, the USDA settled the suit and agreed to begin the rulemaking process to grant protection of birds, rats, and mice. This process would include solicitation of comments from all stakeholders to assure that the regulations are practical. However, even though the majority of the scientific community supports protection for these species, the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR), a small but powerful animal research lobbying organization, and other biomedical research interest groups made two attempts to block our progress. NABR and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD filed a motion to intervene on the lawsuit, but were denied. NABR was successful, however, in having a rider attached to an Agriculture Appropriations Bill, which allotted funding to the USDA for 2001. This rider prohibited any action on the inclusion of birds, rats, and mice for that year.

AAVS and Others Respond

In December 2000, AAVS and ARDF initiated the Working Group to Preserve the Animal Welfare Act, which is comprised of many national animal protection organizations that share our concern for the future of the AWA. The Working Group works diligently to garner support from legislators and the public to prevent any action that will compromise the Act’s integrity.

Research Groups Prevent Protection

NABR and their allies used the opportunity brought about by the delay to try to persuade legislators to exclude birds, rats, and mice from the basic coverage afforded by the AWA. Some powerful legislators and institutions were misled by these biomedical research lobbyists, who fight any animal welfare legislation or new regulation that will result in improved conditions for animals in laboratories. Unfortunately, following a Congressional amendment in May 2002, birds, rats (of the genus Rattus), and mice (of the genus Mus) bred for use in research were specifically excluded from protections afforded by the AWA.

Recent Action

In June 2004, the USDA notified the public that it had amended the AWA regulations to reflect the change to the law. The USDA also began to solicit comments to begin regulating birds, rats, and mice who are not excluded from the AWA. In March 2006, USDA responded to a petition filed by AAVS by revising its Policy #10 to clarify that genetically engineered and cloned animals should not be denied AWA protection.

Why Achieving Animal Welfare Act Coverage for Birds, Rats, and Mice Bred for Use in Research is Vital

  • Birds, rats, and mice represent roughly 95 percent of animals used in research, and they currently have no legal protection. Because facilities using these animals are not required to report the number used, it is not possible to determine an accurate number of birds, rats, and mice utilized in laboratories.
  • Researchers are not legally required to consider alternatives to the use of unlisted species (this was the primary reason for the ARDF lawsuit), and rodents, in particular, are used excessively, especially in genetic engineering. Genetic engineering creates numerous ‘surplus’ animals, and in many instances, increased animal suffering.
  • Without coverage under the AWA, these species are not assured the most basic standards of care such as access to food and water and relief from pain or distress.
  • Currently, the USDA does not inspect facilities that are only using species not covered by the AWA. All research facilities should be subject to the same level of scrutiny and be held accountable for violations.
  • Broad support exists within the scientific community as documented in Science and Lab Animal magazines.


Support for Birds, Rats, and Mice

“As someone deeply involved with the process of revising and expanding the provisions of the AWA, I assure you that the AWA was meant to include birds, mice, and rats.” Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, in a letter to ARDF; March 19, 2001

“By far the greatest number of animals used in biomedical research studies in the USA are laboratory-bred rats and mice. Their coverage under the AWA and by USDA [would be] appropriate and proper.” Scientists Center for Animal Welfare Position Paper, Undated

“During the Inspection of the…freezer, I discovered a…rat that was barely breathing…. It had been in the freezer for some time, possibly a day or more.… The fact that the animal confined in the freezer was a rat and therefore not a covered species in no way diminishes the seriousness of this egregious lack of humane care for this animal.” Elizabeth Lyons, DVM, MS, Veterinary Medical Officer, USDA; August 28, 1998 Inspection Report for University of Hawaii at Manoa

“[Our survey results] suggest that a majority of individual animal researchers favor the inclusion of rats, mice, and birds under the AWA.” Scott Plous, Ph.D. and Harold Herzog, Jr., Ph.D., LAB ANIMAL; June 1999, p. 40

“[The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science] is convinced that all vertebrate animals used in research, education, and testing should be afforded protection under the AWA.” American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), Undated

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