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Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees are of central importance to the application of laws to animal research in the United States. Most research involving laboratory animals is funded by the United States National Institutes of Health or other federal agencies. The NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare has been directed by law to develop policies that describe the role of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. 
Every institution that uses animals for federally funded laboratory research must have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). Each local IACUC reviews research protocols and conducts evaluations of the institution's animal care and use which includes the results of inspections of facilities that are required by law . Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees must have a way to correct problems in animal care including fair treatment of whistleblowers.
History of IACUCs
Amendments were added to the United States Animal Welfare Act in 1970. It bacame law that, "Enclosures shall be constructed and maintained so as to provide sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement. Inadequate space may be indicated by evidence of malnutrition, poor condition, debility, stress, or abnormal behavior patterns." An indication of the state of conventional thinking at that time is illustrated by the fact that officials of the United States Department of Agriculture resisted the idea that dogs used in laboratory research should be given daily walks. Dogs had by that time become useful in biomedical research: for example, in providing a scientific basis for the United States Surgeon General to make public-health policy decisions based on the link between smoking and lung cancer.
In the early 1970s, two options were available for intitutions making use of warm-blooded animals for laboratory research. One way for such institutions to comply with United States animal welfare laws was to be accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). The second option was to have a local institutional animal care committee that would include a veterinarian and take responsibilty for making sure that the institution conformed to all government mandated animal care rules.
In 1973 the United States Public Health Service specified that local animal care committees needed to have a minimum of three members. Institutions that did not use large numbers of animals were not required to have a veterinarian on the committee as long as a member of the committee had the training and experience in animal care that was required to care for the animals being used in that instiryution's research. In order to obtain government research funding, animal care committees were required to make reports documenting facilities and animal care practices.
In 1979 all institutions seeking govenment funding for research involving animals were required to have an institutional animal use committee, even if the institution was AAALAC-acredited. Institutions were advised to establish a research protocol review process by which the institutional animal use committee would review individual research proposals in order to confirm that proposed research would be conducted according to government-established animal care guidelines. In order to obtain government funding, institutions needed to certify that they had an animal use committee that was working to keep the institution in compliance with government-mandated animal care guidelines. Each grant application submitted to federal funding agencies had to include an explicit description of how laboratory animal use would be conducted so as to comply with animal welfare laws and guidelines.
Shortly after founding PETA, Alex Pacheco worked as a volunteer at the Institute for Biological Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. He reported violations of the Animal Welfare Act and police seized monkeys from the Institute for Biological Research. Resulting legal cases, in what became known as the Silver Spring monkeys case, eventually reached the United States Supreme Court, generating large amounts of publicity. The United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology held hearings that eventually resulted in major changes to animal welfare laws in 1985. In 1986, newly mandated changes in United States Public Health Service policy and guidelines for animals used in research included a requirement that each institution seeking federal funding have an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that would make sure that animal care conformed to the Animal Welfare Act.
The United States Public Health Service provides a Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and follows the Government principles for the utilization and care of vertebrate animals used in testing, research, and training. These documents guide the actions of local Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees. Inspections of institutions that use animals in research are conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture. Compliance of institutions with the Animal Welfare Act is measured by the results of unannounced inspections by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The results of these inspections are made available to the public through the Freedom of Information Act.
- ^ Online resources of the NIH Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. tutorial
- ^ Animal Welfare Act
- ^ Historical review of animal care regulation, USDA Perspective on Environmental Enrichment for Animals by Jodie A. Kulpa-Eddy, Sylvia Taylor and Kristina M. Adams in ILAR Journal (2005) Volume 46(2).
- ^ Website of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care.
- ^ Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
- ^ Government principles for the utilization and care of vertebrate animals used in testing, research, and training
- ^ Online USDA inspection reports
- "The Experimental Animal in Biomedical Research: A Survey of Scientific and Ethical Issues for Investigators, Volume I" by Bernard E. Rollin and M. Lynne Kesel. Published by CRC Press (1990) ISBN 0849349818.
- Animal care and use committees: history and current policies in the United States by R. A. Whitney in Laboratory animal science (1987) Volume 37 (Special Issue), pages 18-21.
- Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals
- United States Department of Agriculture animal care resources
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