Lack of Transparency in Reporting
Federal guidelines require the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to release annual information pertaining to the number of animals being used for research, testing and teaching by USDA licensees. However, the current APHIS reporting system provides no information pertaining to the specific purposes for which the animals are used, which hinders progress toward the implementation of the “3Rs”—reduction, refinement and replacement—of animal use in science.
Through 2010, APHIS published an Annual Report—in print or on its website—that reflected the total number of Animal Welfare Act-covered research animals currently being used by USDA licensees. This information was a valuable tool in helping policy-makers and animal advocates such as NAVS understand trends in the number of animals used for research, testing and teaching. Without reliable animal usage statistics, a constructive discussion on how well the 3Rs are being implemented in this country cannot take place.
Beginning in 2011, however, APHIS ceased publishing its Annual Report, replacing it with an “interactive search tool” which proved to be complicated, unreliable and unsuitable for information-gathering purposes. Thanks to NAVS’ efforts, APHIS resumed the release of the Annual Report data in 2014.
The picture, however, is still far from complete. APHIS’ reports lack important information about the purpose for which animals are used. The current system can lead to confusion and misinformation about animal use, as without accurate data regarding how animals are being used, benign procedures—such as nail clipping, teeth and ear cleaning, and spaying and neutering of shelter dogs in preparation for adoption—are lumped in with harmful experiments such as toxicology testing.
Additionally, the current reporting system does not include data on mice, rats, birds and cold-blooded animals, as these species are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act.
Understanding trends in animal use in different areas of research will reveal what areas should be prioritized for the development of alternatives and help identify areas where available alternatives may not be used to their full potential.
How NAVS Helps
NAVS worked closely with APHIS to ensure that it resumed the annual release of its animal use data. To encourage increased transparency and accountability, NAVS subsequently filed a petition for rulemaking urging APHIS to require all research facilities that use animals to include more meaningful and detailed information in their annual reports. In our petition, we noted that APHIS’ current data collection and reporting methods lack the scope and detail found in the system currently in use in the European Union, which provides an accurate and transparent accounting of how many, what type of animals, and for what specific research, testing and educational purposes the animals are being used.
NAVS will continue to insist that the U.S. become much more open and transparent about the use of animals in science in our country, including advocating for the inclusion of mice, rats, birds and cold-blooded animals in its reporting.