International Standards for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
All over the world, animal models are used in pre-clinical research to learn more about how the body works, and to identify causes and develop treatments and cures for disorders and diseases. While global research goals may be similar, there are significant differences between standards for pre-clinical research with animals in the United States versus internationally.
To ensure the humane care and use of animals, many countries have laws, policies, regulations, and guidelines in place that govern the use of animals in research and that must be followed by the scientists and laboratory clinicians that use, care for, and produce animals in laboratories.
In North America, both the United States and Canada have comprehensive, longstanding statutes, regulations, policies, and practices governing the use of laboratory animals. In the United States, two national laws—the Animal Welfare Act and the Health Research Extension Act—give the government the right to enact regulations, oversee and inspect facilities, and enforce noncompliance.
In the United States, most research universities and institutions have their own in-house standards and protocols for animal care and use. In many cases, these internal procedures and protocols are directed by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which oversees and enforces laws surrounding animal research in the United States.
Canada has no national laws regarding laboratory animal use and care—all regulations are at the provincial level, though there are many laws that generally protect animals from cruelty and ill treatment, and the Canadian Council on Animal Care, which is the national organization responsible for ensuring and advancing animal ethics and care in science, has the authority to certify and oversee animal research programs.
Mexico and the countries in Central America, South America, and the Caribbean, have varying levels of regulation governing animal research. Brazil, Mexico, and Uruguay have well-developed legislation related to laboratory animal care and use, but other countries in the region have little to no regulation, governmental oversight, or enforcement of existing laws.
Historically, Latin America has not been a hotbed of scientific research with laboratory animals, but as it becomes more prevalent, more nations are moving toward adopting the ideals and practices of the international laboratory science community.
Members of the European Union are governed by the EU Directive on the protection of animals, which aims to protect animals in scientific research, including establishing minimum standards for transportation, training, and laboratory animal housing and care. The EU Directive specifies that animals can only be used in research when there is convincing scientific justification, when the expected benefits of the research outweigh the potential risks in terms of animal suffering, and when the scientific objectives cannot be achieved using non-animal alternative methods.
The EU Directive also includes requirements for implementation of the 3Rs, a widely used set of principles in animal research.
The 3Rs are:
- Replacement: Replace animals with non-animal methods where possible.
- Reduction: Reduce the number of animals used, using only enough to obtain scientifically valid results.
- Refinement: Refine animal use and care practices to minimize pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animals
The Pacific Rim is made up of countries and regions with major differences in economics, culture, and degree of development, so it’s no surprise that the policies related to animal research are equally varied.
Animal research in China is a fairly new phenomenon, and has evolved from a field with few and fragmented policies to one that, while not standardized, is governed by several specific regulations covering the use of laboratory animals in science, including the Statute of Laboratory Animal Administration, the Regulation on the Management of Laboratory Animal License System, and the Guideline on Humane Treatment of Laboratory Animals.
Japan has the Law for the Humane Treatment and Management of Animals in place, but it is up to individual institutions to regulation and oversee their own efforts.
Singapore scientists abide by the Guidelines on the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes, which is based on the 3Rs and details protocols to be followed by institutions, scientists, and animal care staff when performing animal research.
In India, the Guidelines for Laboratory Animal Facility addresses aspects of animal care and use, including veterinary care, quarantine, procurement, animal husbandry, and training. Animal research in India is governed by five principles that roughly correspond to the 3Rs, with the addition of guidelines for living conditions and care, and the responsibility of people who use animals in research to provide for after-care, rehabilitation, and euthanasia in specific situations.
In Australia, oversight and legislation relating to animal research is the responsibility of territorial governments, but it is based on the Australian Code of Practices for the Care and Use of Animal for Scientific Purposes, which advocates the use of the 3Rs.
Middle East & Africa
Although there are some regulations covering animal use in research taking place in this part of the world, there is little regulation, and no official guidelines or government oversight.
For the global scientific community, working together and sharing results from research using animal models can prove challenging due to the lack of standardization of laboratory animal law.
While we may never see international standards for the care and use of laboratory animals, a partial solution is provided by the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), a private, nonprofit organization that promotes the humane treatment of animals in science through voluntary accreditation and assessment.
AAALAC International has established common guidelines and standards for animal care and use in research programs all over the world, and more than 1,000 companies, universities, hospitals, government agencies and other research institutions in 47 countries have voluntarily earned AAALAC accreditation, demonstrating their commitment to responsible animal care and use.
As research efforts continue to expand globally and scientists in disparate locations increasingly work together to achieve the best results, there are likely to be more efforts to create global standards for the ethical treatment of laboratory animals that benefit animals and science alike.