The rules and regulations which protect experimental animals from unnecessary pain and suffering vary widely depending on their country of origin, and also depending on the animals involved.
Invertebrates—such as flies and worms—are used in greater number in research than are vertebrates, but there are few if any regulations which control their use, or are designed to protect the animals. However, when it comes to vertebrate animals, many countries have regulations which restrict how they are used.
In general, governments which put controls on animal experimentation do so by placing restrictions on one or more of three general areas:
- The number of times a single animal can be used
- The total number of animals used
- The degree of pain an animal can suffer without undergoing anesthetic
However, the degree of enforcement of these regulations, and the regulatory bodies which carry out enforcement, vary markedly.
In Japan, for example, the system is more self-regulatory than in most other countries where regulations exist. There is a Law for the Humane Treatment and Management of Animals in place in Japan, which requires that researchers using animals are self-guided by the principles of the three Rs (outlined in the previous article in this series). However, while local-level inspections may be carried out, there are no governmental inspections, and researchers are not required to report on the number of animals they use.
In the U.S., vertebrate animal testing on is regulated by the 1966 Animal Welfare Act. The act is enforced by the Animal Care division of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service of the Department of Agriculture. The Animal Welfare Act contains provisions requiring that care and welfare reach a certain standard. However, the act specifically excludes any rats, mice, and birds purpose-bred for experimentation – and this is a fatal flaw, because it is highly unusual for wild animals of these species to be used in medical research.
In the U.K., animal testing is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which requires that all experiments be regulated by three specific licenses:
- A license for the scientist in charge of the project. This details types and numbers of animals used, the experiments involved, and their purpose.
- A license for the institute where the experiments will take place, verifying the staff and facilities are adequate for the purpose.
- A license for each technician and scientist involved in the experiments.
When deciding whether a license is granted, a cost-benefit analysis weighs up the potential benefits of the experiment versus the likely suffering the test animals will experience. Licenses are not granted in cases where there are practicable alternatives which do not involve the use of animals.