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US animal lab limit dropped

Measure would have ended government funding for researchers using Class B dealers

By | November 3, 2005

A measure introduced by US Senator Daniel Akaka (D) from Hawaii that would restrict research institutions from purchasing laboratory animals from certain suppliers was dropped and removed from the Agriculture Appropriations bill by the senate last week.

Senator Akaka's "Class B amendment" would prohibit colleges, universities and other research centers that lawfully purchase animals from Class B dealers from receiving funds from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA.) Class B dealers are those who get animals from a range of sources, while Class A dealers breed them.

The amendment apparently stemmed from reports that Class B dealers steal animals and subject them to abusive handling, denying them sufficient food, water, and veterinary care before they are sold off to laboratories. Scientists denied these reports, and argued that the move would do more to limit research than to protect animal rights. Indeed, the measure was dropped after scientists appealed to members of Congress, through emails and letters, as well as in person.

Punishing government researchers for using Class B dealers would severely restrict their access to some of the major dealers, Mary Hanley of the National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) told The Scientist. Some of the largest suppliers of research animals are considered Class B, not Class A, even though they breed their animals solely for research purposes, because they are allowed to hold only one license, she noted. "This was a very unusual and alarming amendment, and it could have had a major impact on research," said Hanley. "It is significant that the language was stripped from the bill in conference. It would be a very bad precedent to have research funding attached to this legislation," added Hanley.

News of the amendment stirred concern and mobilized researchers. In a letter to a House-Senate conference committee, Alan I. Leshner—CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and publisher of the journal Science--urged that the measure be stricken "as it will deny funds to entire institutions involved in cutting edge research unrelated to animals."

"The Akaka Amendment would have posed serious problems for research, including critical biomedical studies, and could have deprived many of our major research institutions of all federal funding, including support for work that doesn't involve animals at all," since institutions would lose funding for all projects if they used Class B dealers, said Albert Teich, Head of Science and Policy at AAAS.

"We are really breathing a sigh of relief in the fact that the measure did not get pushed through the House and the Senate without critical analysis," Christian Newcomer, Associate Provost for Animal Research and Resources at Johns Hopkins University told The Scientist. "It was really based on an inappropriate attribution (theft) of how animals get into the Class B dealers, but that's a matter of criminality, it's not something that is rampant and intrinsic to the Class B sourcing system."

Newcomer explained that because Class B dealers acquire animals from a variety of sources, some animals came from inappropriate sources. Still, the problem has been addressed, he noted. "USDA regulations state that there needs to be a tracking mechanism that extends back from the Class B dealer to the point of origin of the animals, assuring that those who surrender animals to these dealers are the rightful owners of these animals," said Newcomer.

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