USDA agrees––finally––that rats, mice, and birds are animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 2000:

U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle
on October 4 agreed to hear arguments
from Johns Hopkins University
and the National Association for
Biomedical Research against a
precedent-setting agreement under
which the USDA Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service would settle
a lawsuit brought by the
Alternatives Research & Development
Foundation by bringing rats,
mice, and birds under the protection
of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
The proposed agreement
requires the USDA to amend the
definition of “animal” in the Animal
Welfare Act enforcement regulations
so as to remove the exclusion of rats,
mice, and birds which has been in
effect since 1970.

The agreement will take
effect if affirmed by Judge Huvelle
and not overturned on appeal.
The Alternatives Research
& Development Foundation is an
affiliate of the Philadelphia-based
American Anti-Vivisection Society.
It pursued a well-beaten path which
had often led nowhere for other petitioners
when in April 1998 it formally
asked the USDA to recognize that
rats, mice, and birds are animals,
and therefore were meant by
Congress to be protected under the
1970 amendments to 1966 Laboratory
Animal Welfare Act which
extended the scope of coverage to all
“warm-blooded animals…used or
intended for use, for research, testing,
experimentation or exhibition.”
That 1970 language
remained intact in the 1976 and 1985
amendments that established the
Animal Welfare Act in present form.
But petitions from animal advocates
attempting to persuade the USDA to
heed the evident intent of Congress
were repeatedly rejected under pressure
from biomedical researchers.
Lawsuits were then filed
seeking to compel the USDA to
obey the law. Twice the plaintiffs
won in the Washington D.C. District
courtroom of the late federal judge
Claude Richey, but lost in the U.S.
Court of Appeals for allegedly lacking
legal standing.
On September 1, 1998,
however, in a reversal of past rulings,
the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the Washington D.C. Circuit agreed
in Animal Legal Defense Fund v.
[Secretary of Agriculture Daniel] G l i c k m a n that individuals and
humane societies were intended by
Congress to have standing to sue to
enforce the AWA. The U.S.
Supreme Court affirmed the appellate
ruling without comment.
This gave extra weight to
the lawsuit filed against the USDA
in March 1999 by ARDF and Beaver
College biology student Kristine
Gauz of Philadelphia.
Johns Hopkins and NABR
contend that extending the Animal
Welfare Act to protect rats, mice,
and birds would cost researchers an
additional $80 million to $90 million
per year just to meet the paperwork
requirements. They also claim that
the existing animal care standards
prescribed by the National Institutes
of Health as a condition of receiving
federal funding are protection
enough for the estimated 23 million
rats and mice and the unknown but
much smaller number of birds now
used in laboratories.
However, American AV
executive director Tina Nelson told
only 5% of laboratory animals are
covered by legally mandated minimum
standards of care and use. The
three largest organizations representing
the laboratory animal community
have all endorsed listing rats, mice,
and birds. None of these professional
laboratory animal-focused groups
have identified any threat to research
that would result from the inclusion
of rats, mice, and birds.”
Those organizations are
the American Association of Laboratory
Animal Science, Association
for Assessment and Accreditation of
Laboraratory Animal Care International,
and Scientists’ Center for
Animal Welfare.
The first impact of extending
the Animal Welfare Act to rats,
mice, and birds would be that federally
funded institutions would at last
be obligated to provide complete
annual accountings of the numbers
of all of the animals they use, which
in turn would permit accurate assessment
of whether the numbers are
going up or down.
Under the present AWA
enforcement regulations, the totals
can only be guesstimated from the
tallies of animals used other than
rats, mice, and birds.
Historically, at institutions
which voluntarily provided the numbers
of rats, mice, and birds used,
rats and mice were more than 90%
of the total, so the standard
approach has been to multiply by 10
the numbers of animals reported.
However, the numbers
used of almost all other species have
declined steadily for 10 to 20 years.
Use of rats and mice is
believed to have declined during the
1980s and most of the 1990s due to
the replacement of traditional LD-50
testing of toxic substances with the
LD-10, which uses only 20% as
many animals, and with non-animal
alternative tests.
In addition, the advent of
genetic engineering is believed to
have encouraged researchers to use
small numbers of custom-bred rats
and mice in their investigations,
rather than large numbers of less
expensive animals who may not
respond to the illness or other condition
under study.
But the downward trend
could have been reversed recently by
work done in connection with the
High Production Volume chemical
safety testing agreements reached in
early 1999 among the Environmental
Protection Agency, the Chemical
Manufacturers Association, and the
Environmental Defense Fund.
The American Anti-Vivisection
Society is the oldest organization
in the U.S. advocating for animals
used in science, founded in
1883 by Caroline Earle White.
An anti-slavery crusader
before the U.S. Civil War, White
started the Women’s Humane
Society of Philadelphia in 1870,
took the first animal control contract
handled by a humane society in
1872, went on to found the Pennsylvania
Society to Protect Children
from Cruelty, and continued to head
American AV until 1911.
White died in 1916, at age
83, recalling as her greatest single
success the lawsuit which compelled
railroads to obey a federal law
requiring them to feed and water cattle
in transit at least once in each 28

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