Animal Research Facilities In The U.S.: 2017 Analysis
As our most recent Faunalytics Fundamentals on Research Animals (and our recent blog on Research animal advocacy) makes clear, the use of animals in experiments is a secretive and rather opaque industry at the best of times. It is very difficult to know what kind of experiments are being done on animals, what kind of oversight those experiments have, and whether any real welfare measures are in place to actively protect animals’ interests before, during, and after experiments. Still, due to the bureaucratic nature of animal research, there is some information that is made publicly available. Gathering, sifting through, and analyzing such information, however, can be difficult.
Fortunately, groups such as the Humane Party are doing just that, and they recently undertook a gathering and analysis of the most recent data (2015) from USDA monitored animal research facilities. In their own words, they wanted to “centralize and analyze” the USDA data, and provides specific information about the number of animals used per state and per pain category, as well as a correlation between the number of animals being bred and kept in captivity and those actually being used in research. Though all of this information is publicly available in many forms, the Humane Party wanted to “provide relevant information in a simplified manner to internal and external parties who are interested in the subject.”
Before delving into the numbers, the authors outline the nuts and bolts of Policy 11 and Policy 12 of the Animal Welfare Act, which are meant to provide “guidance on painful and distressing procedures,” and “guidance on the requirement to provide a written narrative of the consideration of alternatives to painful and distressful procedures,” respectively. For Policy 11, they outline the describe the various levels of pain and distress, from Column B (being kept for research without being used) to Column E (being used in painful procedures without anaesthetic).
For Policy 12, they note they describe the various steps researchers should go through to justify not using alternative methods. These include a rationale for involving animals and the appropriateness of the specific species; a description of “description of procedures or methods designed to assure that discomfort and pain to animals will be limited to that which is unavoidable in the conduct of scientifically valuable research”; a “written narrative” that describes the methods and sources used to consider alternatives; and a written assurance (though this is not necessarily cross-checked) that the experiments do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments.
After setting this context, they delve into the numbers and come out with some interesting findings. First, they note the important caveat that the USDA does not add Column B to the total of animals in their reports, with the rationale that they don’t count because they “do not experience pain/distress from testing procedures.” In the Humane Party’s analysis, however, they are counted, with the rationale that “being bred and kept in artificial environments against their natural instincts and best individual interests, therefore generating distress.” In total, they find 136,525 in Column B, and and 767,622 in Columns C-E combined, for a total of 904,147. In their view, the animals being held in Column B should have some correlation with the way animals are used in the other columns. However, they find that non-human primates are found disproportionately in Column B.
For research animal advocates, the analysis gives a specific set of information that is extremely useful in debating the issues and educating the public on animal issues. However, it is worth pointing out that the animals covered by the USDA make up only a small fraction of the animals used in research each year. The vast majority of the animals used in laboratories – rats, mice, birds, fishes, and others – are not only not counted, but they are not covered by the “protections” of the Animal Welfare Act.