MADISON – Here’s a partial list of federal agencies and academic groups that regulate if, how and when animals are used in research settings:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care and the UW-Madison All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee.
The job simply won’t be complete, however, until the Dane County Board of Supervisors gives its stamp of approval.
A special committee of the board may be created to study whether Dane County should officially “endorse” or “oppose” scientific experiments on non-human primates in Dane County. Sponsors of the idea recognize the county has no authority over animal research policies at UW-Madison, where monkeys are a part of some experiments, but they want to keep up pressure on the university on behalf of those who believe all primate research is wrong.
At one level, it’s possible to understand why animal-rights advocates passionately oppose experiments involving animals. No one likes to see another creature suffer needlessly.
Beyond the passion, however, exist facts about animal-based research that run counter to the steady drumbeat of opposition.
Our quality of life has been improved significantly by biological research that sometimes relies on the use of animals in controlled experiments. A generation or more of people has never known what it was like to be unable to swim in the summer for fear of contracting polio, to go blind or deaf because of infections, or to expect that any cancer diagnosis was a death sentence.
Animal-based research has helped provide cures and treatments in those case and many more. Biotechnology companies have depended on animal research to develop more than 160 drugs and vaccines approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to the Biotechnology Industry Organization. Those discoveries have helped hundreds of millions of people worldwide and prevented incalculable human suffering.
In addition, BIO has reported, animal research has led to 110 USDA-approved biotech-derived veterinary biologics and vaccines that improve the health of livestock, poultry and companion animals. Biotech veterinary products to treat heartworm, arthritis, parasites, allergies and heart disease, as well as vaccines for rabies and feline HIV, are used daily by veterinarians. Biotechnology has improved the way veterinarians address animal health issues through the use of biotech vaccines and diagnostic kits and improved breeding programs that can help to eliminate hereditary diseases.
All of this has been accomplished amid an array of government regulation and researcher self-policing that has made examples of animal mistreatment rare. At UW-Madison, the All-Campus Animal Care and Use Committee functions as an oversight body for all animal use. Such institutional bodies are required by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the federal Animal Welfare Act.
The USDA and National Institutes of Health regularly inspect research institutions to verify the well-being and care of animals. With very few exceptions, animals used in research – predominantly rodents and rabbits – do not suffer more pain or distress than animals outside the lab. In fact, lab animals often receive the best of care because of their value to researchers.
Computer modeling has already reduced the amount of animal research. So has cell-based research, such as the use of animal embryonic stem cells in drug testing. In the future, use of human embryonic stem cells in drug testing could further reduce the use of animals in research. In fact, UW-Madison researcher Jamie Thomson’s breakthroughs with human stem cells rested on his doing the work first in monkeys.
For now and well into the future, animal testing will be a part of scientific research. That research is being conducted safely and humanely by researchers who are a dedicated to finding cures for some of mankind’s worst diseases – as well as conditions that plague animals themselves.
Existing laws, federal oversight and campus self-policing is all based on one concept: Researchers should never unnecessarily burden animals in research. With rare exceptions, that core ethical idea is respected and routinely observed – even without the help of the Dane County Board.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.