The new, eighth edition of the National Academy of Sciences' Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals reflects much that has changed since publication of the last edition 15 years ago concerning notions of the proper housing, handling, and care of animals used in experiments. What has not changed, sadly, is the furor generated by an entrenched research industry resistant to and threatened by suggestions that there is any need or obligation to evolve.
To be sure, the Guide falls far short of what AWI would like to see. It still encourages rather than mandates improvements, and relies very heavily on performance-based standards rather than more precise engineering standards. Yet, as noted in the Fall 2010 AWI Quarterly, the eighth edition is vastly improved. It was written by a carefully selected committee of experts in laboratory animal medicine, science, and behavior, animal research, and laboratory animal regulation and oversight. Subsequently, it was rigorously reviewed by a knowledgeable and experienced external peer review committee.
Now that it is time for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to adopt and implement the Guide for use by its grantee institutions, there are loud complaints that its “significant economic impacts warrant additional review and comment.” This attempt to weaken the Guide and slow down the NIH’s implementation of it is the same strategy the National Association for Biomedical Research (NA BR) and its cohorts employed when the research community was asked to enhance animal welfare with the 1985 Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals (ISLA) amendments. In fact, NA BR succeeded in severely weakening the ISLA regulations and delaying them for years. (One could argue that some are still not enforced.)
The new Guide will have a positive impact on both the animals and the science, and most researchers should be able to implement it without difficulty. If some institutions need a phase-in period for changes requiring capital investment, so be it—but only if these facilities are on a public list and the phase-in is documented to ensure timely compliance. The wait for a decision from NIH to adopt the eighth edition should not be a prelude to an even longer delay endured by animals used for research.