The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) was recently asked to review several issues pertaining to the use of animals in federal research, including:
- the extent to which the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provide federal facilities with guidance for reporting their animal use programs;
- the extent to which APHIS and NIH share animal use information from federal agencies with the public; and
- stakeholder views on whether federal agencies should share more information.
Here are the highlights from the GAO’s “Animal Use in Federal Research Report.”
The GAO found that the federal research facilities that they reviewed complied with the reporting instructions from the NIH. However, the report raised concerns about “APHIS not providing sufficient instructions on the research activities that federal agencies are to include in their annual reports.” Annual reports from federal agencies submitted to APHIS were inconsistent or incomplete regarding the use of birds, animal use outside of the U.S. and field studies.
Concerns were also raised about the federal animal use data that the agencies share publicly. The report mentioned that APHIS “does not explain potential limitations related to the accuracy and completeness of the annual reports that it provides to the public or in the national summaries of the annual reports.” These reports may erroneously include animals not covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and may not include animals that are covered under the AWA. The reports also contain information from agencies that has not been validated for accuracy and completeness.
The GAO also examined whether stakeholders would be interested in having more information on animal use in federal research made public, including information on the general purpose of the research and the number of non-AWA-covered animals used in research. Stakeholders had mixed views on this. Those with a vested interest in animal research opposed the idea because of administrative burdens; animal welfare organizations supported the reporting of more information to increase transparency and oversight.
Based on these findings, the GAO recommended that APHIS should take the following actions:
- Develop a timeline to provide a definition for birds that should be listed in annual reports, and require research facilities to report their use of birds covered by the AWA to APHIS.
- Instruct federal agencies to report their use of AWA-covered animals in federal facilities located outside of the U.S.
- Provide clear criteria for field studies that should be reported to APHIS.
- Describe how the agency compiles data from research facilities to generate the annual report, what the data represent and limitations to the data’s completeness and accuracy.
We are pleased that the GAO has provided some guidance on how APHIS can improve the quality of data it collects from agencies using animals. However, we strongly believe that more transparency is necessary to better understand animal use by federal agencies—and all facilities using animals in our country.
In 2014, NAVS filed a petition for rulemaking with APHIS requesting that our data collection and reporting methods include the scope and detail found in the system used in the European Union. The changes we requested would lead to an accurate and transparent accounting of how many and what type of animals were being used, as well as the specific research, testing and educational purposes. We are still awaiting a formal response from APHIS on this petition, which would strengthen the quality of data provided to the public on animal use in our country.