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How the Law Affects Animals in Research

Animals used for research, testing and education face unique challenges under the law. These animals are the property of the institution using them, whether it is the federal or state government, a university, or a private company. Therefore, it is difficult to act on behalf of any particular animal, with few exceptions, so the use of law is focused on helping populations of animals and how they are treated and used. For example, efforts are made to change the law affecting all laboratory animals, rather than trying to use the law to remove a single animal from a research facility.

The primary federal laws that impact the use of animals in research are:

Among the state initiatives that effect animals used in research are:

Adoption of dogs and cats from research institutions at the end of the protocol
Anti-cruelty statutes
Pound Seizure

Passing—or amending—federal laws, such as the Animal Welfare Act, can establish standards of care for animals in a laboratory, including housing standards and a baseline for treatment. One example is a specific amendment to the Animal Welfare Act that created a system of review for all animal experiments by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). Once the AWA amendment was passed in 1985, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) implemented specific guidelines setting out the responsibilities of IACUCs, reporting requirements, and setting up regular inspections and reviews of their records. While this does not impact the care of individual animals, it does provide a level of needed oversight to experiments on animals.

When an area of law is regulated by the federal government, the state is generally prohibited from making laws that are contrary to the federal law. This is known as federal preemption. The Animal Welfare Act largely preempts state or local laws regarding animals used for research.

State laws can be passed when they don’t specifically regulate how animals are being used while they are used for an experiment. For instance, a state law can be adopted on the disposition of animals after research is complete. This includes the recently-passed “Research Dog and Cat Adoption Act.” Four states have adopted a provision that require healthy dogs and cats used for research, testing and education by institutions of higher education to be adopted out rather than euthanized when they are no longer needed. This law, more than most, would directly benefit dogs and cats in university labs. Legislation was introduced in several other states, but failed to win the approval of the legislature in 2015. This is a bill that will be introduced—or reintroduced—in many states in the coming years, in large part because it is a law that people—and their elected officials—easily understand.

Laws can have an impact on how animals are treated in the laboratory, and even what animals can be used. However, passage of effective legislation to reduce and replace animals in research, testing and education is difficult, though that doesn’t stop NAVS—or advocates like you—from working towards that end.