The US NIH has clarified its position on research animal welfare after its original statement raises concerns.
The Office of Lab Animal Welfare (OLAW) - the National Institutes of Health (NIH) group that coordinates Public Health Service (PHS) policy - developed a set of position statements to help institutions implement the 8th Edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals in research, which is a requirement for PHS funding.
These were issued for public consultation in December in a process which, by the close of the comment period on February 3, had garnered 44 comments from PHS-assured institutions, professional organisations, animal advocacy groups and the general public .
Much of the feedback related to the NIH's statement that “Cost cannot be the overriding factor in decisions related to animal welfare in US Public Health Service (PHS) funded research” which – while supported by all respondents – was a source of concern for some.
One unidentified respondent said: “While I as an investigator agree that cost cannot be the overriding factor in decisions related to animal welfare, it remains a fact that these new regulations require significantly more funds in order to implement new 'musts' and 'shoulds', which will in turn require more money from our funding sources.”
A second made a similar point, arguing that: “While I agree that cost cannot be the overriding factor in decisions related to animal welfare in PHS-funded research, there is no scientific evidence available that the new standards provide an improvement in animal welfare.
“A higher cost without improvement in animal welfare, if this is the case, could be considered ethically problematic, since without producing a benefit less potentially life-saving research potentially reducing human suffering could be performed.”
This point was echoed by an unidentified individual claiming to be from research animal supplier Taconic who said: “[comment 19] Adoption of the new Guide as planned by NIH is likely to have a significant economic impact on PHS-assured institutions. Research institutions are already under extreme financial strain that may be compounded by continued NIH budget pressures in FY 2012 and beyond.”
Advocacy group - the Animal Legal Defense Fund – had a different take.
While the group supported the idea that cost cannot be the overriding factor in animal welfare, it argued that “this principle is compromised by OLAW's simultaneous willingness to permit institutions to use less expensive and less humane approaches than those required by the Guide.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) had a similar interpretation. The organisation said it “supports OLAW's statement that cost cannot be the deciding factor in making decisions about animal welfare in PHS-funded research.
“The fact that the majority of commenters felt it appropriate to mention concerns with cost makes it even more imperative that OLAW strongly clarify that cost cannot be a reason not to address animal welfare.
For a summary of the full revisions to the OLAW positions statements click here .