AWARE Act Seeks to Protect Farm Animals at Federal Research Sites

Responding swiftly to The New York Times exposé of cruel experiments involving farm animals at the US Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center (MARC) in Nebraska, members of Congress introduced bills to provide protection for farm animals being used in agricultural research at federal facilities. The Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research Endeavors (AWARE) Act—HR 746 and S 388—was introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) in the House, and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in the Senate. This bipartisan legislation is designed to close the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that excludes farm animals used in agricultural research at federal facilities from the basic humane standards of care prescribed in the law. Passing the AWARE Act would be a modest step in the right direction, but would not affect the significant amount of agricultural research involving animals conducted at nonfederal facilities. Passing the Act would not hinder legitimate research. On the contrary, requiring federal facilities such as MARC to meet the AWA’s care requirements 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.

The Times’ revelations about the atrocities at MARC were also the source of bipartisan outrage when USDA Undersecretary Catherine Woteki and Agricultural Research Service Administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young testified before the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on March 24. These officials, who have direct responsibility for MARC, met a barrage of questions and criticisms from all the subcommittee members present. Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and Ranking Member Sam Farr (D-CA), as they had at previous hearings with USDA officials, including Sec. Vilsack, wanted a better accounting of the department’s actions. Both expressed frustration with the USDA’s unresponsiveness, especially its refusal to address questions in a letter from subcommittee members. Undersecretary Woteki and Administrator Jacobs-Young insisted that MARC voluntarily complies with the AWA and pointed to the recently released report from an independent review panel that glossed over deficiencies in animal care. (For AWI’s analysis of the report, see page 22.)

The congressional subcommittee members noted that MARC’s activities do not reflect good husbandry or industry practices and suggested that the facility suspend operations until the Inspector General completes her investigation. The subcommittee also requested that federal research facilities, like MARC, abide by the provisions in the AWA to ensure farm animals used in agricultural research at federal facilities are guaranteed a minimum standard of care and humane treatment.

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