Animal Welfare Act

Bdealer - Photo by AWI

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was the first federal law in the US regulating animals in research. The AWA applies to animal carriers, handlers, dealers, breeders, and exhibitors in addition to research laboratories, and sets minimum standards of care that must be provided for animals—including housing, handling, sanitation, food, water, veterinary care and protection from weather extremes. It covers warm-blooded species,with the exception of birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus -bred for use in research.

Over the years, the AWA has been amended numerous times. The key provisions regarding animals in research are as follows:

On August 24, the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (P.L. 89-544) is signed into law. The Act sets minimum standards of care and housing for dogs, cats, primates, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs in the premises of animal dealers and laboratories, and it requires identification of dogs and cats to prevent theft. Dealers must be licensed and laboratories must be registered.

On December 24, Congress amends the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (P.L. 91-579), renamed the Animal Welfare Act, extending protection to all warm-blooded animals in laboratories.

Congress passes an amendment (signed into law on April 22) to broaden the Animal Welfare Act (P.L. 94-279) so as to, among other things

  1. regulate carriers, intermediate handlers and animal brokers, so as to require adherence to humane standards;
  2. specify that all dogs—including dogs for hunting, security or breeding purposes—be protected;
  3. require a veterinarian’s certificate for animals in interstate transport; and
  4. require all federal agencies—including the Army, Air Force and National Institutes of Health—using laboratory animals to show they fully comply with the Act.

On December 23, the Food Security Act (P.L. 99-198), an omnibus farm bill, is adopted into law. The Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act (ISLAA) is included within the Food Security Act. ISLAA is an amendment to the AWA, intended to minimize the pain and distress of animals in the laboratory. It establishes an information service in the National Agricultural Library, in cooperation with the National Library of Medicine, to provide data on alternatives to animals in research, help prevent unintended duplication of experiments and tests, and supply information to institutions for training scientists and other personnel in humane practices, as required by the new law.

Each registered research facility must appoint an institutional animal committee, including a veterinarian and an unaffiliated person, to represent the general community interest in the welfare of the animals. The committee must inspect the animal laboratories twice a year and report deficiencies to the institution for correction. If not corrected promptly, the USDA must be notified for enforcement action, and any funding agency involved must be informed so that they can make a decision on whether the grant should be suspended or revoked.

Furthermore, investigators are required to consider alternatives and to consult with a veterinarian before beginning any experiment that could cause pain. They must adhere to standards set by the Secretary of Agriculture for pre- and post-surgical care and the use of pain-relieving drugs or euthanasia, and against the use of paralytics without anesthesia and the unnecessary use of the same animal for more than one major operation. Exceptions to the standards may be made only when specified by a research protocol and an explanation is provided for any deviation. Fines for violations rise from $1,000 to $2,500 for an AWA violation and from $500 to $1,500for failure to obey a cease and desist order. Each day that an AWA violation or failure to obey a cease and desist order continues is considered a separate violation.

On November 28, the Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act (FACTA) (P.L. 101-624), an omnibus farm bill, is adopted into law. The Pet Theft Act, included in FACTA, is an amendment to the AWA, requiring pounds to hold dogs and cats for five days before releasing them to dealers. The AWA is further amended to allow the USDA to seek injunctions against any licensed facility found dealing in stolen animals or placing the health of any animal in serious danger in violation of the Act.

On May 13, the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act (P.L. 107-171), an omnibus farm bill, is signed into law. It includes language changing the definition of “animal” under the AWA to specifically exclude birds, rats of the genus Rattus and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research. (The excluded animals constitute approximately 95% of all animals in research.)

On June 18, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act (P.L. 110-246), an omnibus farm bill, is adopted into law. It includes an amendment to the AWA which increased fines for violations of the law from $2,500 to $10,000 per violation, per animal, per day.

Prior to final passage, a provision of the bill to phase out sale and use of random source dogs and cats is dropped—although it had been adopted by both the House and Senate. It is replaced with language calling for a study of Class B dealers by the National Institutes of Health, and instructing the USDA to respond to the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on the study.

Find out more about animals in laboratories.