Alternatives to Use of Animals in Research

HRD-80-70: Published: Mar 28, 1980. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1980.

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GAO was requested to comment on the feasibility and advisability of a legislative proposal to redirect 50 percent of Federal research funding for developing nonanimal alternatives to research and to review several issues regarding nonanimal alternatives. "Alternatives" is generally defined as not using any laboratory animals, reducing the number of animals required, or refining existing methods to minimize the amount of animal suffering and stress. The proposed legislation was introduced in response to the concern expressed by an animal welfare rights organization that nonalternatives were not being used effectively by the research community. GAO discussed the use of alternatives with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH stated that legislation of the scope and nature proposed was both unnecessary and unworkable. It noted that the bill would prohibit the use of funds for animal testing once an alternative was identified, and that requiring extensive reprogramming of funds from live animal research to alternatives would severely limit support for a large number of important research programs. Currently, no legislation or regulation exists pertaining directly to alternatives for using laboratory animals in research. The Animal Welfare Act, the primary legislation dealing with the use of animals in research, is concerned with ensuring that animals intended for use in research facilities are provided humane care and treatment. NIH policy statements and guidelines also have the same basic concern. While complete information on the amount of funds spent for nonanimal research or for developing other alternatives was not available, a study revealed that about 7 percent of the total NIH research budget was used in such research during 1978. NIH officials believe that adequate sources of information on alternative research methods are available to researchers and is planning a conference to address the advantages and limitations of the use of alternatives in biomedical research.

GAO believed that more information is needed on the advantages and limitations of alternative methods and the extent of inappropriate animal experimentation before deciding whether legislation such as that proposed is needed. The extensive reprogramming of research funds proposed by the bill should be delayed pending further study. The planned NIH conference could provide beneficial information on the use of alternatives and leave NIH in a better position to inform Congress of the extent to which additional funds are needed. Additional funding would not necessarily require new legislation. Congress could request a status report from NIH on its efforts in developing and using alternatives. Then, if Congress believed additional funding was warranted, it could direct NIH to emphasize that research under existing legislation. By monitoring the NIH efforts and assessing the impact of additional funding, Congress could determine whether additional legislation is needed.

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