Bioethics Blogs

Animals in US Laboratories: Who Counts, Who Matters?

Guest post by Alka Chandna

How many animals are experimented on in laboratories? It’s a simple question, the answer to which provides a basic parameter to help us wrap our heads around the increasingly controversial and ethically harrowing practice of locking animals in cages and conducting harmful procedures on them that are often scary, painful, and deadly. Yet ascertaining the answer in the United States – the world’s largest user of animals in experiments – is surprisingly difficult.

In the eyes of the US Animal Welfare Act (AWA) – the single federal law that governs the treatment of animals used in experimentation – not all animals are created equal. Mice, rats, and birds bred for experimentation, and all cold-blooded animals – estimated by industry to comprise more than 95 percent of all animals used – are all unscientifically and dumbfoundingly excluded from the AWA’s definition of “animal”. Orwell cheers from his grave while Darwin rolls in his.

Leaving aside the question of whether mice and rats should be categorized as vegetable or mineral, the exclusion of these animals from the AWA also results in a dearth of data on the most widely used species, as the only figures on animal use in US laboratories that are systematically collected, organized, and published by the government are on AWA-regulated species.

By comparison, the European Union, Canada, and many other countries cover all vertebrate and some invertebrate animal species under their experimentation policies and publish data on their use.

Needless to say, this American blind spot makes it almost impossible to know the full scope of current and past animal use in experiments and the impact, if any, of government policies and programs committed to reducing animal use.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.