Small lab animals exempted from law

As part of the farm bill enacted on May 13, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to explicitly exempt rats, mice, and birds from coverage under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). It’s a triumph for biomedical research groups–and a painful setback for animal-rights organizers.

The latter have been campaigning that coverage of small lab animals under the 36-year-old AWA is necessary to guarantee their humane treatment. Most of the nation’s major medical-research organizations had countered that the cumbersome accounting provisions of the act would have drowned the researchers in costly paperwork–without improving the care now afforded those animals.

When USDA announced 20 months ago that it was ready to bestow AWA protection on lab animals, Congress stepped in and froze the funds to pay for the necessary USDA inspections of research centers (SN: 11/18/00, p. 334: The new farm bill legalizes this status quo but instructs the National Research Council to compute costs and benefits of extending AWA protection to lab animals.

Biomedical groups’ previous estimates of up to $280 million a year to comply with AWA are gross exaggerations offered as a scare tactic, argues Chris Heyde of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation in Washington, D.C. His group and others plan to fight to overturn the new AWA exemption.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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