The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that each year as many as 20 million animals are used in various university and industry settings for basic research and product testing. This figure represents a sizable drop from the late 1970s, when the USDA estimated that about 33 million animals per year were used. Two reasons are usually cited for this trend, says Daniel Ringler, director of the Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine at the University of Michigan.

First, many researchers have altered or discontinued some animal studies because of the rising cost of using animals under increasingly stringent federal regulations. These extensive new rules have resulted from Congress' response to the demands of animal rights groups and public concern over the alleged mistreatment of animal subjects.

A second reason, says Ringler, is the development of alternative testing methods that require fewer animals or eliminate the use of animal subjects altogether (The...

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