Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Harmonization of Animal Care and Use Guidance

Read the full (enhanced) discussion in Science magazine (5 May 2006: Vol. 312. no. 5774, pp. 700 - 701). I think a subscription is required.

This article (by Gilles Demers, Gilly Griffin, Guy De Vroey, Joseph R. Haywood, Joanne Zurlo and Marie B├ędard) calls for continued and expanded efforts to harmonize laws and regulations relating to the ethical treatment of animals involved in scientific research. Their article cites a number of important references (with links in the expanded version). It draws heavily on the work of the International Council for Laboratory Animal Science (ICLAS). The authors make the point that such harmonization is important for many reasons, including not only improving ethical treatment but also simplifying the administration of international research collaboration and improving the comparability of research results from different nations. Indeed, I believe that the thought that has been given to regulations involving animals used in science in the United States has lead in many cases to saving money and to more valid research.

Most people, when they think of this topic at all, think of the use of laboratory animals in medical research -- a very important topic, and one of considerable interest to the World Health Organization. However, animals are involved in many other fields of science, and not only in the laboratory. Thus, for example, agricultural scientists do research on livestock, environmental scientists and zoologists do research on wild animals in their natural habitat, and ichthyologists do research involving fish in fresh and salt water ecosystems.

The relevant regulatory system is complex. In the United States, for example, there are different regulations for treatment of laboratory animals, livestock involved in research, and animals in the wild. There are also different regulations for primates versus other less intelligent laboratory animals versus laboratory mice and rats.

Harmonization of animal care and use regulations would seem to be an important topic for UNESCO, which is of course the lead agency in the United Nations System for the physical and social sciences, and which has a program in bioethics. UNESCO's work could complement that of the World Health Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health, coordinating among the different UN agencies, and broadening the scope to include all of science.

The United States government might well recommend that UNESCO consider a declaration designed to harmonize regulations on the ethical treatment of animals in science. Were UNESCO to embark on the effort to develop such a declaration, the United States has a strong community of experts involved in the relevant issues who might assist in UNESCO's work.

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