NAVS Intel ISEF Campaign

NAVS has spent nearly two decades trying to change the rules of the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) to prohibit the use of vertebrate animals for invasive experimentation. The Intel ISEF competition is the only one that currently permits projects that cause harm to vertebrate animals for the purpose of the competition. NAVS spent years requesting meetings and attempting to open a dialogue with Science Service, the fair’s administrator, but to no avail.

Animals have been routinely used by students enrolled in the ISEF fairs at the local, regional and even the final competition. Despite the fact that some states have enacted laws to prohibit or restrict high school students from performing harmful projects on vertebrate animals, NAVS has documented cases where projects that harm animals are presented and even win at competitions in those states. Enforcement of this provision is lax both on the local and national levels of the competition.  Exceptions are often made because the work is done at a laboratory under the supervision of scientists.  In addition, students and teachers are often unaware of laws in their state that prohibit vivisection for school projects.

NAVS has actively campaigned for more than a decade to change the rules for Intel ISEF to prohibit the invasive use of vertebrate animals for science fair projects. As Intel ISEF is an international competition, a change in these rules would have global implications. Since projects that do not comply with Intel ISEF’s standards for the use of animals would not be eligible to participate in the final competition, it would discourage the use of invasive animal projects undertaken at every level of the competition.

After Intel took over sponsorship of the competition, NAVS took its campaign to the sponsor, filing a shareholder’s resolution in December 2000 with Intel Corporation to force a change in the rules. While the resolution did not succeed, the strategy proved to be effective. Intel Corporation agreed to exercise its corporate muscle on our behalf to force a meeting between NAVS and Science Service, with Intel Corporation serving as the mediator.

On February 6, 2001, Science Service finally sat down with NAVS representatives to discuss the possibility of changing the rules that govern this competition, for the first time discussing the pros and cons of permitting high school students to conduct invasive experiments on vertebrate animals for the purpose of gaining a prize. Also present at the meeting were representatives of the National Association of Biology Teachers, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Physiological Society, all of whom were members of Science Service’s advisory board. While the overwhelming representation of pro-animal research organizations put NAVS at a disadvantage, our voices were finally heard.

In addition to establishing the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with Science Service regarding its rules, NAVS proposed awarding a prize at subsequent Intel ISEF fairs for projects that promote humane science and/or the use of alternatives to animals in research.

For more information, see NAVS Humane Science Award.

The rules have changed over the years, even without NAVS’ influence. Animals can no longer be deprived of food and water for unreasonable lengths of time, LD-50 tests have been prohibited, and the administration of alcohol has been banned. But there are still projects where animals suffer pain, stress, and even death as part of a high school experiment.

NAVS Executive Director Testifies on Animal Experimentation

The rules governing the ISEF are reviewed on an annual basis, but Science Service undertook a complete overhaul of its “animal use policy” in 2003. NAVS was invited to participate, giving testimony before a committee of the Science Service Scientific Review Committee on recommended changes that could be made to the use of non-human vertebrate animals for science fair projects. The testimony was well received and sparked considerable discussion, though NAVS was one of the only animal advocacy groups invited to speak.

The most notable among the changes that resulted from the overhaul was the omission of “The Science Service and ISEF Position Statement on the Use of Animals in Pre-College Science Research.” This statement, which endorsed the use of animals for scientific research as “necessary and important for learning about the life sciences” was removed altogether from the Intel ISEF rules handbook. NAVS appreciates Science Service’s action in making this change.

Other improvements were made, although invasive experimentation continues to be permitted within the laboratory. Research projects that cause more than momentary pain or suffering to animals are “prohibited,” not just to be “avoided.” Food and water can be restricted no more than 18 hours, instead of 24.

The most extensive change is special rules for projects conducted in “non-regulated” sites. Science Service has reversed its position on conducting projects in the home. A non-regulated site would also include a school, farm, ranch or field. The rules require a “Designated Supervisor” to oversee the daily husbandry of the animals, and a Scientific Review Committee must still review and approve the project before it can begin. Only behavioral, observational, or supplemental nutritional studies can be conducted at a non-regulated site and only non-invasive, non-intrusive methods may be used.

All Other Research on Animals Must be Conducted in a Regulated Research Institution

One more change that deserves at least a passing note: If an animal is euthanized solely for a student’s project, the study must be considered a “vertebrate animal project” and adhere to the rules regarding a regulated research institution. After years of seeing projects that “harvest” parts, it is good to have recognition for the fact that a live animal was sacrificed for this project and deserves the minimal protections available under federal and state law.

Change is slow. While NAVS presented a wish-list of changes to Science Service in September 2003 that included the abolition of invasive experiments on live animals, NAVS was pleased to have made an impact on the rules for Intel ISEF, even if only incremental success has been achieved. Ten years ago Science Service ignored the existence of NAVS. Now they have actually adopted some of NAVS’ recommended changes. In the future, perhaps they will consider even more of the changes NAVS proposed in the name of humane science and innovative progress through new technologies and ideas that look “outside the box” of mainstream scientific methodologies.

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