In 1966, the U. S. Congress passed the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which was intended to provide minimum standards for the care and treatment of commercially handled animals, whether for scientific research, sale or exhibition purposes. Over the years this basic law has been amended. At every juncture lobbyists who represent research and certain farming interests worked to modify the law so the provisions would not affect their industries.
In 2002, for example, the original intent of the law was frustrated when research lobbyists were able to have rats, mice and birds defined as not animal*, thus removing them from the protection of the law.
If an animal is not an animal, then a person may do the following: not provide food and water. Not allow for physical and psychological suffering when conducting experiments. What this means, basically, is that a rat, mouse or bird used for research, or any other purpose, can legally be cut into without anesthesia. Can legally be thrown into the trash while still alive. Can be refrigerated. Can be burned. Can be tortured in any way imaginable. Legally.
This week the University of Chicago released the results of a study it conducted on empathy in rats. The research concluded that rats do demonstrate empathy. If, for example, two rats are established cage mates and one is confined in a small container, the unconfined rat becomes agitated. The unconfined rat attempts to free the former cage mate. When offered the opportunity to eat chocolate or free the cage mate, the unconfined rat is as likely to go for the rescue as for the snack.
Apparently, not only do animals, even animals that are not animals, suffer when they are themselves tortured, but they also have the “higher” capacity of suffering when another creature is tortured.
It is a canard put out by the research industry that animal testing is necessary for advances in human medicine to occur. Alternatives to animal testing exist. But even if that were not true, even if some testing were necessary to gain access to information about human disease, we who benefit from that information have an obligation. Our obligation is to hold our Congress accountable to a humane standard of animal welfare. I don’t think it’s too much to insist that in legislating the welfare of a living creature used for research, the Congress demonstrate, at a minimum, the compassion of a rat.
*Please note, the 2002 exclusion applies to animals “bred for research”, which is approximately 95% of the animals used in research labs.
Discover Magazine: Empathic Rats Spring Each Other From Jail http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/notrocketscience/2011/12/09/empathic-rats-spring-each-other-from-jail/
The Anti Vivisection Society: http://www.aavs.org/site/c.bkLTKfOSLhK6E/b.6470159/k.4F56/About_Animal_Welfare_Act.htm
PETA: Rats Mice and BIrds Deserve Protection Under the Animal Welfare Act http://www.peta.org/features/unc-awa.aspx
Vegan Peace: Mice and Rats: The Other 99%
Dr. Bernard’s Blog: The Other 99%: