It is common for representatives of the research industry to espouse support for humane treatment of animals. Their websites highlight the “3R's” of Russell and Burch, and publicly, they often embrace the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Yet, their actions tell a different story. For example, despite its pronouncements of concern for animals, the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) has been a longstanding, aggressive opponent of measures to improve the welfare of animals in the laboratory. The organization fought vehemently against the 1985 Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act (ISLAA) amendments to the AWA, then succeeded in holding up the promulgation of regulations for years and ultimately ensured the adoption of weak regulations. More recently, NABR took action on multiple fronts to ensure the exclusion of rats, mice and birds under the AWA.
NABR’s position is not really surprising given that its membership includes commercial breeders of animals for research purposes, pharmaceutical and biotech companies, medical and veterinary schools, and universities. More than thirty years ago, Charles River Laboratories founder and chairman, Dr. Henry Foster, Foster’s son (an attorney), and Frankie Trull created NABR in Trull’s living room. Foster made clear the commercial value of maximizing the number of animals in research: “If you read the papers, everything seems to have carcinogenic effects. But that means more animal testing, which means growth for Charles River…so you can see why we continue to be enthused and excited.” (The Wall Street Transcript, May 21, 1979)
Going back to the very roots of the research industry, NABR was borne of a merger between the Association for Biomedical Research and the National Society for Medical Research (NSMR). NSMR was an aggressive and at times over-the-top opponent of the humane progress sought by AWI—going so far as to compare the Institute to Machiavelli, Hitler and Stalin!
NABR is not alone in its anti-animal welfare stances. In 2000, the executive director of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC)—after offering the disclaimer that he was speaking personally and not on behalf of AAALAC—suggested a practical means to phase in inclusion of rats, mice and birds under the Animal Welfare Act. Nonetheless, the organization’s board of directors interceded and prohibited him from taking this public stance. Clearly, AAALAC was not interested in finding a way to extend AWA protection to rats, mice and birds.
The American Physiological Society (APS), as well, has routinely written to Members of Congress to oppose the Pet Safety and Protection Act, a measure to end the supply of dogs and cats by Class B dealers. In May 2009, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a report entitled Scientific and Humane Issues in the Use of Random Source Dogs and Cats in Research, which concludes, “Class B dealers are not necessary as providers of random source animals for NIH-related research.” Class B dealers are notorious for their trade in illegally acquired animals and for failing to meet minimum care requirements under the AWA. Yet, despite both sound animal welfare grounds and the NAS proclamation that there isn’t a scientific need for Class B dealers, the APS has continued to actively oppose the legislation to end this disreputable trade.
Although there is rhetoric suggesting support for improving animal welfare in research laboratories, none of the scientific societies or lobby groups has shown any willingness to work cooperatively to bring about the implementation of formal measures to benefit animals. On the contrary, such organizations typically rally to oppose any hint of change.