Research Ethics

New federal lab animal policy is adopted despite scientists’ concerns

Public Health Service will enforce 8th edition of the Guide.

By Jenna McGwin

On December 1, 2011, the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced (PDF, 149KB) that the eighth edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals would be adopted as Public Health Service (PHS) policy effective January 1, 2012. OLAW has regulatory oversight of all PHS-supported research, testing, and training that involves laboratory animals. Among the agencies that fall within the purview of PHS are the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration.

As reported previously, the eighth edition of the Guide was published in early 2011 by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Research of the National Research Council (a component of the National Academies). In the spring, OLAW received more than 800 public comments from scientists, institutions, and scientific societies concerning its initial proposal to adopt the eighth edition as PHS policy. Most of the comments were negative, including those from the American Psychological Association. (APA’s comments can also be found here.) The comments raised concerns around such points as: a lack of clarity about whether the guidelines would function as recommendations or requirements, constraints on professional judgments of scientists and veterinarians, and changes in laboratory procedures and environments that would be costly without clearly improving animal welfare. Other comments commended, among other points, the new edition’s coverage of aquatic animals and its expanded reference section.

In response to the concerns expressed in the public comments, OLAW has issued six Position Statements that aim to clarify how it expects institutions and scientists to implement the eighth edition. These statements address:

1.  Cost 

2.  Housing 

a.  Nonhuman Primate Housing 

b.  Environmental Enrichment 

c.  Rodent Housing 

d.  Rabbit Housing 

3.  Non-Pharmaceutical-Grade Substances 

4.  Food and Fluid Restriction/Use of Preferred Foods 

5.  Multiple Surgical Procedures 

6.  Agricultural Animals

As part of the implementation, institutions must complete one semiannual program review and facility evaluation using the eighth edition of the Guide during 2012. Although OLAW will not require institutions to make all necessary changes in 2012, “an evaluation must be completed and a plan and schedule of implementation of the 8th Edition of the Guide must be developed by December 31, 2012.” 

OLAW is accepting comments on the public’s understanding of the Position Statements through January 30, 2012. Individuals may submit comments by entering them on OLAW’s website. All comments received will be made publicly available with any identifying information removed.  

Previous coverage:  
APA recommends against proposed federal lab animal research policy (June 2011)

Jenna McGwin is Research Ethics Program Associate in the APA Research Ethics Office.