Who Counts? Who Doesn’t?

The Animal Welfare Act, the primary federal law that regulates the use of animals in research, specifically excludes rats, mice, and birds from the definition of “animal” – despite estimates that they account for up to 95% of the animals used in research protocols. The result of this omission is that no one knows exactly how many animals are sacrificed in research protocols in the U.S. every year. But based on some estimates, we do know the numbers are staggering. In 2000, the Library of Congress published a report with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) that estimated the number of rats, mice, and birds used annually in the U.S.  This report approximated that 1.2 million rats, 4.2 million mice, and 1.9 million birds were used in the U.S. annually in research protocols at that time. This number was thought to be a gross underestimation of the number of those species used in research because the numbers were derived from a limited database and because researchers do not have to report the number of these species used in research protocols.  As the number of genetically modified animals has soared globally over the last decade, the number of transgenic animals, those that have been genetically modified to express genes from other species, has skyrocketed.  Madhusree Mukerjee, former editor of Scientific American, estimated in 2004, that more than 100 million transgenic mice were used in American labs alone each year. One can only imagine how high the number is today.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes an online report on its administration and enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. This report includes information on animal use statistics, inspection, and enforcement highlights, and statistics by state and facility.