The United States Food and Drug Administration has changed its stance on animals involved in experiments. For the first time ever, the department now allows animals who have been subject to lab experiments to be adopted out, rather than calling for euthanasia.
“The FDA has an internal policy for the placement of research animals after study completion that has not been made public,” Monique Richards, an agency spokeswoman, told The Hill.
The FDA is only considering common pets like dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs in the adoption policy, similar to a policy already implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
“There is no reason why regulated research animals that are suitable for adoption or retirement should be killed by our federal agencies,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in a statement to The Hill. “I’m pleased that the FDA has joined the NIH and VA in enacting a lab animal retirement policy.”
According to the Smithsonian, the NIH enacted a similar policy in August 2019, and the Department of Veteran Affairs in 2018. Several states also have laws concerning adoption policies for animals used in research, but there is no nation-wide standard.
Collins had previously brought to congress the Animal Freedom from Testing, Experiments and Research (AFTER) Act in 2019. Though the act has eight co-sponsors, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), it has not advanced out of committee, and may never see a vote.
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The new FDA policy would make sure that animals tested on in federal laboratories are placed in rescue shelters or retirement sanctuaries as soon as the testing is completed. In 2018, that could have involved 1,929 animals, and the FDA actually began implementing the policy that year, starting with 26 squirrel monkeys who were relocated after the conclusion of a nicotine study. The monkeys were moved to a sanctuary in Florida, where they’ve so far been able to flourish.
“For years, I’ve worked to end outdated government animal testing opposed by most Americans, and have been disturbed at how many animals are killed at the end of research even though there are individuals, rescues, and sanctuaries ready to take them in,” wrote Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), sponsor of the House measure, in a public statement. “Having introduced the AFTER Act to require federal agencies to allow lab animal adoption, I am very happy with the FDA’s new policy allowing healthy dogs, primates, rabbits and other animals to be retired after research.”
This measure will help match animals with loving forever homes, though some may need a little more care than others. Of the total number of animals involved in FDA lab experiments in 2018, the Animal Welfare Council estimates that 27 percent were subject to pain or distress.
“Animals who are going to be adopted out are going to need to go to families or rescues and sanctuaries that are going to have the time and patience and expertise to help them adjust,” said Justin Goodman, vice president of advocacy and public policy for the White Coat Waste Project, an animal advocacy group that works to expose taxpayer-funded experiments involving animals.
“The FDA should be a role model for other federal agencies that are experimenting on animals, but have not yet agreed to allow them to be released at the end of testing,” Goodman continued. “So, we do hope that this is what other agencies will follow suit with the FDA, NIH and VA who have already done this.”
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