The Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act is a federal law which was passed in 1966 to regulate animal research facilities, animal dealers and exhibitors, operators of animal auction sales, and carriers and intermediate handlers of animals in shipment. Species covered by the Animal Welfare Act are dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, nonhuman primates, marine mammals, captive wildlife, and domestic livestock species used in nonagricultural research and teaching. The Act and its amendments, as applied to research and teaching institutions, regulate the transportation, purchase, husbandry, and management of animals used or maintained in the institution.

The Animal Welfare Act requires that research institutions: 1) have an effective Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, 2) have a veterinary care program in place, 3) have only qualified personnel using or caring for live animals, and 4) have a mechanism in place for reporting of concerns regarding animal care and use at the institution.

The Animal Welfare Act is administered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is enforced through unannounced inspections by a USDA Veterinary Medical Officer. During inspections, the USDA veterinarian does have the right to observe laboratory personnel in the performance of their duties and to take photographs of noncompliance with the regulations. Inspection reports are available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.

Violations of the Animal Welfare Act may result in fines, legal action or suspension of federal support for animal research.

The Public Health Service Policy on the Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals

The Public Health Service (PHS) Policy is based on the “US Government Principles for the Utilization and Care of Vertebrate Animals Used in Testing, Research and Teaching” which were developed by the Interagency Research Animal Committee. The requirements of the PHS policy are very similar to those listed above for the Animal Welfare Act.

The PHS policy is not federal law. However, institutions must be in compliance to qualify for funding from any PHS member agency. In addition, many funding agencies outside the PHS are adopting the PHS standards of animal care and use as described in the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals (ILAR Guide), developed by the Institute for Laboratory Animal Resources. The PHS policy applies to all live vertebrate animals used in teaching, research and testing. The Guide describes the elements of acceptable institutional policies and veterinary care programs as well as specific physical requirements for the animal facility. The Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Research and Teaching also serves as a standard where agricultural animals are being used in agricultural research and teaching.

In order for an institution to be eligible for PHS funding it must have on file with the Office for Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) an approved Animal Welfare Assurance Statement. This document describes the institution’s animal care and use policies, the line of authority for animal care at the institution, veterinary care program, personnel and facilities. The PHS may approve the Assurance Statement for up to five years with a required annual report to OLAW in the intervening years. Although the PHS does not conduct regular inspections of each facility, any awardee institution may be inspected by a PHS team at any time. The PHS is required to investigate all complaints received on PHS funded projects.

Failure to comply with the PHS policy may result in suspension of a research contract or termination of PHS support for all projects involving animals at the institution.

Additional Resources

Veterinary Care Program, a brief description of ISU’s veterinary care program

AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia, 2020 Edition