Editor’s note: This opinion article is a response to “Opinion: Time to Take Animal Rights Harassment More Seriously” by Jim Newman of Americans for Medical Progress.Trust is the foundation for ethical treatment of animals in research.” This was the response that I received in an email from a longstanding member of the University of Washington Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), on which I also served, after another bruising public meeting. I had raised pointed questions to principal investigators about uncontrolled variables in their proposed experiments, the impact their studies would have on animal welfare and husbandry, and whether the harms inflicted upon the animals were justified by the presumed benefits to humans.
This discussion about animal welfare, animal ethics committees and the discharge public trust, is very much a rip in the frame of the approach in the United States. Nonetheless, it raises important questions for other jurisdictions. Are committees checking applications for bureaucratic compliance or are they genuinely discharging the public trust? We need a process to test this involves public input and oversight.
I no longer serve on the University of Washington (UW) IACUC. I could no longer ignore that the IACUC was violating the public’s trust.
The existence of IACUCs was mandated by the US Congress in amendments it made to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 (AWA) in 1985 in response to public outrage stemming from exposés of animal abuse in academic biomedical research laboratories funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). IACUCs are charged with ensuring institutional compliance with federal animal welfare regulations and guidelines and with reviewing, approving, and monitoring all experimental use of animals at their facilities. While IACUCs derive their regulatory authority from the AWA, their nascence is directly tied to the public’s demand for increased oversight of animal use. This is particularly critical as public opposition to the use of animals for experimentation is growing and IACUC oversight hasn’t proven to be a panacea for this growing concern. One of the biggest complaints that critics have about IACUCs is that they have been turned into what they were not intended to be: committees predominantly occupied with technical and bureaucratic details rather than oversight bodies assuring the welfare and ethical use of animals in research, teaching, and toxicity testing.