On December 1 - almost one year from its publication date - the 8th edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals was accepted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). A great deal of controversy has surrounded some of the new requirements in the Guide (see page 2 of the summer 2011 issue of the AWI Quarterly). For those whose research is regulated under the Guide, the four most contentious changes (and the most likely cause of the delay) are: (1) social housing is now considered the “standard” housing condition for all species; (2) minimum size for rodent breeding cages has increased; (3) cage height for rabbits has increased; and (4) social housing is now firmly required for primates. (Social housing for primates should have been required under the Animal Welfare Act since 1985, but this was not uniformly enforced. By the terms of the new Guide, lack of caging is expressly ruled out as an acceptable justification.)
Along with the acceptance of the Guide from the NIH came 29 FAQs from the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare to help the regulated community interpret the new rules. Nineteen of these were updates to previous explanations, while 10 were new FAQs. Unfortunately, most of these FAQs are disappointing from a welfare perspective in that they allow “performance” measures of compliance. While performance standards are not inherently bad, they do provide those less committed to practicing the best animal care and research an opportunity to use procedures that may not be true to the intent of the reforms, or in the best interest of the animals.