Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act

Background: Animal Cruelty Exposed at Federal Facility

Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act - Photo from Flickr Nicholas ErwinIn January 2015, The New York Times released a shocking front-page exposé detailing horrific examples of animal abuse at the US Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska. MARC is a government laboratory within the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service.

Cruel and callous experiments involving pigs, sheep, and cattle have been routinely conducted under the guise of research to improve profits for industrial agriculture. Newborn lambs were left alone in fields to die from exposure and predation; a young cow died from injuries after she was forcibly restrained and bulls were allowed to continuously mount her for hours; pigs were locked in steam chambers until they eventually died; and at least 6,500 animals have been starved to death at this particular facility. These are only a small sampling of the atrocities known to have occurred there.

Using Taxpayer Money to Support Dubious Research

MARC is one of 40 facilities operated by the Agricultural Research Service that conduct experiments involving animals. Since 2006, close to $200 million has been spent on the MARC facility alone, according to a USDA report submitted to Congress during the budgeting process. Asking American taxpayers to bankroll private industry research and development that involves shocking animal abuse represents an egregious breach of the American public’s trust.

Although MARC is the USDA’s premier animal research facility, the scientific value of its experiments in animal production is dubious, at best. A letter signed by 43 members of Congress to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack decries the lack of “meaningful and useful results” from MARC. The letter expresses dismay that MARC’s research is done “to maximize profits for agribusiness but at a terrible cost and with no real benefit. The experimentation has been for naught and the animals have suffered and died needlessly.” This letter echoes the concerns of individuals within the meat industry who have questioned the merits of the bizarre and extreme experiments that go on at MARC. During congressional hearings on USDA’s budget and activities, legislators on both sides of the aisle expressed alarm over what transpires at MARC and called for greater accountability.

USDA Is Not Providing Proper Oversight

Although the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) specifically exempts farm animals “used or intended for use for improving animal nutrition, breeding, management, or production efficiency, or for improving the quality of food or fiber,” MARC is expected to adhere to the AWA standards of humane care. Unfortunately, although the USDA is responsible for enforcing the AWA, the department has not been effectively managing its own research involving farm animals.

In response to the scandal and subsequent public outcry, Secretary Vilsack directed his staff to craft an updated “animal welfare strategy plan.” However, it is clear that more immediate and concrete action is necessary to ensure that abuses at federal research facilities testing on farm animals do not occur in the future.

The Solution: The AWARE Act

The cruel treatment of animals at MARC is unconscionable. It has been allowed to continue in large part because of the glaring gap in the AWA that allows federal research facilities like MARC to torture farm animals with impunity.

The Animal Welfare in Agriculture Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act would close the loophole in the AWA that excludes farm animals used in agricultural research at federal facilities from basic animal welfare protections. Passing the AWARE Act would NOT hinder legitimate research. On the contrary, requiring federal facilities such as MARC to adhere to certain minimum standards of humane care would benefit research by ensuring that protocols are carefully thought out and followed.  Better care of animals reduces extraneous variables and, in so doing, yields more reliable results.