Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals

Congress enacted the first federal regulations in the United States limiting the use of animals in scientific and other research.

Summary of Event

There is a long history of using live animals in scientific and medical research; the first recorded instance was in the third century b.c.e. Over time, research using animals resulted in substantial and undeniable benefits to humans. Once some people recognized that animals have a capacity to feel pain, however, the practice began to be questioned on ethical, moral, and philosophical grounds. Research on animals, regulation of
Animal Welfare Act (1966)
Animal rights
[kw]Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals (Aug. 24, 1966)
[kw]Act Regulates Research Using Animals, Animal Welfare (Aug. 24, 1966)
[kw]Research Using Animals, Animal Welfare Act Regulates (Aug. 24, 1966)
Research on animals, regulation of
Animal Welfare Act (1966)
Animal rights
[g]North America;Aug. 24, 1966: Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals[08940]
[g]United States;Aug. 24, 1966: Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals[08940]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Aug. 24, 1966: Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals[08940]
[c]Animals and endangered species;Aug. 24, 1966: Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals[08940]
[c]Social issues and reform;Aug. 24, 1966: Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals[08940]
[c]Science and technology;Aug. 24, 1966: Animal Welfare Act Regulates Research Using Animals[08940]
Johnson, Lyndon B.
[p]Johnson, Lyndon B.;animal rights
Stevens, Christine
Foley, Thomas

As a result of the development of the pharmaceutical and petrochemical industries in the 1930’s, there had been a dramatic increase of research using animals. At that time, animals also began to be used more in the testing of nonmedical products such as cosmetics as well as in weapons and space research. Eventually, a reaction began, and a spate of animal-welfare acts was introduced and debated in both houses of the U.S. Congress between 1960 and 1966.

Two events had raised public awareness of the need for some protection for animals: the fate of a missing pet dog suspected of having been stolen by a dealer, and a photo essay in Life
Life (periodical) magazine that depicted the inhumane treatment of dogs by dealers. The fate of the pet was never ascertained, but the fact that it had been impossible for the family and public officials to investigate the dealer convinced people that legislation was needed. The first step was taken when congressmembers Warren G. Magnuson Magnuson, Warren G. and Joseph Y. Resnick Resnick, Joseph Y. introduced a bill to regulate trade in dogs.

The Animal Welfare Act of 1966 grew out of the ensuing six-year debate in Congress, which focused on many of the issues of using animals for teaching and research, in exhibitions, and as pets. Much of the credit for the act’s passage went to a grassroots effort led by Christine Stevens, an activist and founder of the Animal Welfare Institute Animal Welfare Institute . Stevens was given special recognition in the congressional record of the Eighty-ninth Congress for her contribution.

The 1966 act regulated the sale, transport, and handling of dogs, cats, monkeys, guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits. The U.S. secretary of agriculture Department of Agriculture, U.S.
Agricultural policy;United States was made responsible for establishing standards for humane treatment and transportation of those animals, but no specific standards were set in the act itself, nor did the act include provisions for enforcing the regulations. The legislation had other serious weaknesses: It did not empower the Department of Agriculture to interfere in research designs or specific experiments; it addressed only the supply and care of animals, not the kind of procedures to which they were subjected; it covered only those institutions that receive federal funding; and it did not extend to rats and mice, which account for nearly 80 percent of all laboratory animals.


The debate over animal use continued after the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, and a number of amendments were added to the 1966 bill that significantly strengthened its provisions. The first amendment, in 1970, directed the secretary of agriculture to set standards for treatment and transportation of research animals and charged the Department of Agriculture with inspecting all official animal facilities and removing or humanely killing suffering animals. A 1976 amendment, sponsored by Representative Thomas Foley, mandated additional protection for animals being transported and tried to ensure humane care and treatment of animals; the amendment also prohibited the sale or use of stolen animals.

Even as amendments were added, the debate over animal use continued, driven by activists who believed the use of vertebrate animals in research to be unnecessary and often to involve excessive animal suffering resulting from improper techniques and inadequate standards of humane treatment. The animal-rights movement gained strength as groups began to work together toward common goals. Academic debate on the moral status of animals helped legitimize the movement. Militancy also increased: Some activists believed they were justified in vandalizing research laboratories and freeing research animals. Scientists themselves became increasingly willing to criticize aspects of animal research. Public sentiment played a large part in convincing the scientific community that additional regulations were not only inevitable but also necessary to defuse some of the criticism.

The number of animals used for research decreased significantly after the 1970’s as a result, at least in part, of scientists developing alternative research methods such as physical and chemical analytic techniques, use of biologically active products, and computer modeling and mathematical analysis. Systems using microorganisms were found to be effective substitutes for animals in the testing of cancer-causing chemicals. Cell-culture techniques carried out in vitro (literally “in a glass”; in other words, in a test tube or laboratory flask) almost entirely replaced the controversial Draize rabbit eye-irritation toxicity text, which had been used for determining the safety of cosmetics. In some cases, human clinical and epidemiological studies were implemented directly following in vitro tests. Moreover, because of heightened public scrutiny, scientists who continued to experiment on animals refined their techniques to reduce stress and pain to the animals.

The series of amendments and related legislation strengthened the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 but did not end the debate between animal-rights proponents and scientific communities over the use of animals for research. In June, 1994, the U.S. district court of appeals in Washington, D.C., overturned a 1992 district court order that had charged the Department of Agriculture with monitoring the treatment at universities of research rats, mice, and birds, none of which were covered by the 1966 act or its amendments. In July, 1994, a 1991 court order was overturned that had mandated exercise for research dogs and provisions for the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates. Both rulings were made on the basis that the individuals and groups who had brought the suits had no legal standing to challenge existing regulations. That convinced animal-welfare advocates that the way to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act further was not through the courts but through Congress. In 2002, extensive amendments to the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act provided additional protections of animals during transportation, sale, and handling. Research on animals, regulation of
Animal Welfare Act (1966)
Animal rights

Further Reading

  • Fox, Michael Allen. The Case for Animal Experimentation: An Evolutionary and Ethical Perspective. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986. Provides background to the controversy over use of live animals in research and the moral and ethical arguments used against it. Focuses primarily on legislation in Canada. For general readers. Includes bibliography and index.
  • Friedman, Ruth. Animal Experimentation and Animal Rights. Oryx Science Bibliographies 9. Phoenix, Ariz.: Oryx Press, 1987. A comprehensive annotated bibliography for general readers.
  • Garner, Robert. Animals, Politics, and Morality. Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1993. Written from the animal-rights perspective. Focuses on animal-welfare legislation and the debate surrounding it in England; some discussion of U.S. legislation as well. Includes an index and notes.
  • Moss, Thomas H. “The Modern Politics of Laboratory Animal Use.” BioScience 34 (November, 1984): 621-625. Describes changing attitudes of the scientific community toward animal rights and animal-welfare legislation.
  • Rowan, Andrew N. Of Mice, Models, and Men: A Critical Evaluation of Animal Research. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984. Presents relevant historical, social, and scientific information on the issue. Written for general readers, and includes tables, a bibliography, and an index.

  • Scientific American, February, 1997, 79-93. Four brief but detailed articles debate the pros and cons of using animals in research. Highly recommended.
  • Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: Ecco, 2002. A classic, and controversial, work, first published in 1975, by an ethicist and philosopher who argues against the use of animals in research. Highly recommended.
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture. National Agricultural Library. Animal Welfare Information Center. Part of a project mandated by the 1985 Animal Welfare Act amendments. Countless links and other information. Highly recommended for study of the federal government’s perspective on the use of animals in research.

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