Guidelines work better than animal welfare law

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Sir

Your Opinion article, “In defence of animal research” (Nature 407, 659; 2000), incorrectly states that the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) urges dispensing with a definition of distress for animals used in research, testing and teaching.

In a letter sent to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) on 18 October, FASEB states that guidelines for the recognition of distress would be useful, but should not be included in USDA regulations or policy manuals because a single, standardized definition of distress would not help institutions to recognize, minimize or report animal distress across species and situations.

FASEB believes that local Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) should take responsibility in this area and foster a partnership among scientists, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, animal husbandry staff, government and professional associations.

Rather than being a reactionary argument, as asserted in your editorial, the FASEB position is based on a careful review of data from the scientific study of pain and distress in animals, and discussions with laboratory animal-care specialists from various disciplines including physiology, psychology and neuroscience.

Further, FASEB's recommendations are designed to protect the animals that scientists are indeed privileged to use. They acknowledge that a local IACUC is the best qualified to make decisions about the animals in its care, given their intimate knowledge of multiple factors affecting an animal's well-being.

Although FASEB cannot claim that all researchers are united in their opposition to including rats, mice and birds under the Animal Welfare Act, it represents 21 research societies with more than 60,000 members. Your editorial mentions Public Health Service regulations: more than 90% of the rats, mice and birds used for research in the United States are already covered by voluntary accreditation and/or Public Health Service policy. The research community is therefore objecting to redundant regulations, and not the principle of regulating the use of animals.

FASEB believes that modifications to USDA regulations should benefit animals, promote research and reduce administrative cost and regulatory burden. Including rats, mice and birds under the Animal Welfare Act would not accomplish these goals.

FASEB's complete statement is at http://www.faseb.org/opar/news/docs/usda9x22.html . We encourage dialogue with the scientific community on the evolving standards for determining pain and distress in laboratory animals.

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