Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Winter 1994/1995, Vol. 5 No. 4 *************************

Appointing Animal Protectionists to Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees

Lisa Hara Levin and Martin L. Stephens, Ph.D.
Laboratory Animal Section
The Humane Society of the United States


In 1985, the U.S. Congress passed two laws requiring facilities that conduct biomedical research on animals to establish what later came to be called "institutional animal care and use committees" (IACUCs). These laws were the Health Research Extension Act (HREA) (11) and the Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act (ISLA) (10). The ISLA, enacted as part of that year's farm bill, was actually a set of amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Both the HREA and AWA amendments mandated that IACUCs review proposals for research and periodically inspect research facilities, among other activities.

In 1986, the Public Health Service (PHS) implemented the HREA by issuing a revised "Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals" (5). The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the AWA amendments by issuing final regulations in 1989 (13). Thus, research facilities have been legally obligated to operate IACUCs for several years. A few institutions, anticipating the benefits of having an IACUC, voluntarily established IACUC-like committees long before Congress took action (7).

Both the HREA and AWA amendments stipulated that IACUCs include at least one member who is not otherwise affiliated with the facility. The AWA amendments went further by indicating that the non-affiliated members (NAMs) were to provide "representation for general community interests in the proper care and treatment of animals." Animal protectionists hoped that this mandate would provide a public window into the workings of research laboratories, a step toward both more accountability from researchers and better treatment for animals. In their view, the best candidates for the NAM position are local individuals who already have a track record in animal protection and who could be regarded as representing the research animals, and the public's concern for those animals, rather than the institution itself.

Animal protectionists1 are not likely to regard NAMs who lack a track record in animal advocacy as credible watchdogs over the facility's treatment of animals.

On the other hand, many in the research community viewed the NAM mandate as inappropriate, if not punitive. In their view, selecting NAMs should be done with the utmost care, to screen out individuals hostile to animal research who would disrupt meetings, leak confidential information, and commit other transgressions (2, 9).

This clash of views has wound up being decided in favor of the research facilities, which alone are vested with the authority to appoint NAMs and other IACUC members. Thus the community has no say in determining who their committee representative will be.

Very little is known, apart from anecdotes, about the types of individuals being selected to serve as NAMs. The main reason is that facilities usually have tried to keep the identity of their NAMs confidential, reflecting the charged political climate surrounding animal research issues.2 From the information that is available, it seems clear that facilities typically have selected individuals not known within their community as advocates for animals (6). This is not to say that the typical NAM has no concern for animal welfare, only that such concern, if present, would not be apparent to outside observers. Thus, individuals in the community who care about the treatment of research animals typically have no reason to believe that the NAM is a strong advocate for animals. These individuals also have no straightforward way of knowing if their concerns are being raised by the NAM.

Of course, some facilities are either more conservative or progressive than the typical scenario described above. Some facilities not only avoid appointing community-based animal advocates to IACUCs and keep the identity of their NAMs confidential, but they go so far as to strain the letter or spirit of the law. They appoint people who are either currently affiliated with the institution in question (see "Military IACUC's and Animal Protectionists") or formerly affiliated (e.g., alumnus, former employee). Some NAMs have been scientists from nearby research institutions or staff of pro-vivisection organizations.

On the other hand, some progressive institutions have appointed prominent animal welfarists to serve as NAMs. Two of our colleagues at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) served as NAMs on IACUCs at large state universities. F. Barbara Orlans identified two institutions that have published policies explicitly calling for community-recognized animal welfarists on their IACUCs, namely, the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (whose policy refers to "advocates of animal rights") and the University of Southern California ("a public member representing the animal advocate community") (6).

It is not difficult to account for the prevailing tendency of research facilities to "play it safe" by appointing NAMs who have no track record in animal welfare advocacy, and to withhold the identities of these individuals from the very people whom they are supposed to represent. At least initially, many scientists resented the call for community representatives to serve on IACUCs (as well as IACUCs themselves). At issue was not only the wisdom of having someone on the committee who was not likely to be a fellow scientist, but also the implication of having an outsider sit on the committee (i.e., couldn't the researchers themselves and their institutional colleagues be trusted?). Moreover, NAMs were not just any outsiders; they were animal welfare watchdogs. Thus, the NAM role has been caught up in the polarization between the animal research and animal protection communities. Some research facilities and individual scientists feel under siege from animal rights activists, and the research community has devoted considerable resources and attention to keeping these activists at bay, such as by enhancing building security. The last thing these facilities and scientists want to do is bring into their IACUC deliberations someone who is considered the enemy, or at least a troublemaker.

To: Introduction | A Proposal | Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCs | Potential Pitfalls | Concluding Remarks | References | Footnotes

A Proposal

It has been several years since most research facilities established IACUCs. Many researchers and their institutions have come to accept the value of IACUCs in not only helping to ensure the least harm to the least number of animals, but also in helping to improve the scientific quality of proposals, to assure compliance with existing regulations, and to keep the institution's animal care and use program above reproach on animal welfare issues.

Similarly, most researchers and facilities have come to accept the role of NAMs. They recognize that times have changed, the public is concerned about the care and treatment of animals in laboratories, and having NAMs on IACUCs is a small price to payfor continued public support for animal research. Moreover, even though non-scientists may be ill-equipped to grapple with the technical details of research proposals, there is a growing recognition that they can raise fundamental questions that might not otherwise be addressed (9).

At the same time that researchers have come to accept the importance of IACUCs, the hostility between the scientific and animal protection communities has begun to subside. Consequently, some members of each community have begun focusing on areas of common interests, rather than points of disagreement (16).

The time is ripe for research facilities to be less conservative in their appointments of NAMs. In light of the strides being made in bridging the gap between the scientific and animal protection communities, we propose that animal research facilities, as a show of good-will, voluntarily appoint individuals to their IACUC who are recognized within the local community as advocates for animals. We also propose that these individuals be encouraged to serve openly as a liaison between the research community and the concerned public, neither as mouthpieces for the facility nor as spies for local animal activists, but as credible advocates for animals, seeking to function within an imperfect oversight mechanism that has built-in tensions and ambiguities.

We further recommend that facilities appoint at least two such animal protectionists to their IACUCs, so that when one cannot attend a particular meeting, the other can be present. In Orlans' recent survey of 10 IACUC chairpersons, half of the respondents indicated that "non-attendance of their community member had been a real problem and most [chairpersons] expressed dismay at this" (6, p. 114). In light of this problem, which seems inevitable to a greater or lesser extent, complying with the spirit of the AWA for community representation all but necessitates having two or more NAMs.3

Some community-recognized animal advocates may be students or employees of their local research facility, and would thereby be affiliated with the institution. Such institutions are free to appoint these advocates to their IACUC (though not as NAMs); however, because of conflict of interest, this would not provide the kind of community representation that we are proposing.

Federal law does not require that IACUCs include individuals who have demonstrated their care and concern for animals in the local community.4 However, Congress gave NAMs a unique role by stipulating that they represent general community interests in the proper treatment of animals. To be sure, all IACUC members can be considered as advocates for the institution's research animals by virtue of serving on the committee. However, only the NAM's role is linked to community representation and is free of the potential for conflict of interest due to affiliation with the institution.

Unfortunately, the legislative history of the 1985 amendments to the AWA does not shed much light on what motivated Congress to stipulate a role for community representatives in IACUC activities. Clearly, however, Congress believed it was important to open up IACUC deliberations to input and scrutiny from individuals who had no vested interest in the research facilities in question. Moreover, that input and scrutiny were intended to have a certain orientation, i.e., to help ensure the proper treatment of animals. What better way to ensure this, and to embrace the spirit of the AWA amendments, than to fill this role with someone who not only has care and concern for animals, but who also has a track record of animal welfare activity in the community and is willing to serve openly as the community's representative on animal welfare concerns?

Skeptics may view our proposal as either hopelessly naive given the persistent controversy over animal research, or as a thinly veiled attempt to subvert the IACUCs' workings. We argue below that appointing animal advocates to IACUCs and having them be a bridge between the research facility and concerned public, when carried out with common sense, engenders little risk but has significant benefit.

To: Introduction | A Proposal | Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCs | Potential Pitfalls | Concluding Remarks | References | Footnotes

Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCS

All positions on IACUCs, including the NAM, should be filled only after careful deliberation. We recognize that facilities will want to be especially careful if they choose to appoint individuals who have a track record for animal advocacy within the local community. These facilities will no doubt seek to appoint pragmatists willing to work within the system, individuals who can be challenging without being combative or obstructionist. As long as these qualities are satisfied, it matters little whether or not these individuals support the use of animals in research or are simply resigned to the inevitability of such research.5

Why should research facilities buck the current trend by appointing to their IACUCs individuals known for their work on behalf of animals? There are a number of overlapping reasons:

To: Introduction | A Proposal | Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCs | Potential Pitfalls | Concluding Remarks | References | Footnotes

Potential Pitfalls

We recognize that many supporters of animal research are likely to see potential for more harm than good from appointing animal protectionists to IACUCs. In this section, we identify and address several counterarguments to the current proposal.

To: Introduction | A Proposal | Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCs | Potential Pitfalls | Concluding Remarks | References | Footnotes

Concluding Remarks

Our proposal for animal protectionists to be appointed to IACUCs is consistent with a community relations function that many IACUC chairpersons apparently envision for their NAMs. In Orlans' survey of IACUC chairpersons, mentioned above, a "good many mentioned that the community member's presence was to provide assurance to the community that all animal experiments were appropriate and necessary and deserved community endorsement" (6, p. 113). Surely, however, the mere existence of the NAM slot on IACUCs is not enough to provide a meaningful assurance. Rather, such assurances would be more credible if the NAMs had a history of animal advocacy and if they served openly as a liaison between the facility and the community.

We have argued above that our proposal is consistent with, but not mandated by, national policy in the United States. However, national policies in Germany, Denmark, and Switzerland explicitly call for representation from animal welfare groups on regional or national committees that oversee animal experimentation (6). Moreover, Australian policy calls for at least one person who is an animal welfarist to serve on that country's equivalent of the IACUC; the official description of that member parallels the current proposal almost exactly:

A person with demonstrable commitment to, and established experience in, furthering the welfare of animals, who is not employed by or otherwise associated with the institution, and who is not involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. The person should where possible be selected on the basis of membership of an animal welfare organization....(3)

This policy has reportedly caused no major difficulties (8).

What is the likely impact of facilities implementing the current proposal? Orlans' informal survey of 16 former NAMs, all of whom were animal advocates, provides some measure of the limited but important effect (6). She concluded:

They [the animal protectionist NAMs] must be satisfied with having only moderate or minor impact on the committee and seeing only occasional disapprovals of protocols. Their overall impact of contributing balance and some measure of public accountability to the proceedings must suffice (p. 111). A commonly stated opinion among the survey respondents was that the value of being a community member lies not so much in the specific reforms effected but in being a constant reminder to the institution of the outside world (p. 112).

HSUS board member Robert Welborn reported that his own IACUC experience was emotionally trying, but he felt it was nonetheless important for animal protectionists to seek appointment to IACUCs and to work within the system (14, 15).

Institutions that decide to appoint local animal protectionists to their IACUCs face the task of identifying suitable candidates. The HSUS stands ready to help. Indeed, the HSUS has already contacted a number of universities throughout the country, offering our assistance. Other potential sources of help include local, regional, or national humane societies/animal protection organizations, as well as campus-based organizations, which may know of suitable non-affiliated candidates.

In conclusion, we encourage research institutions to appoint local animal protectionists to their IACUCs and to have these individuals serve as a liaison to the community on matters relating to the institutions' care and treatment of animals in research. We believe such individuals, when carefully chosen, offer a number of advantages and pose little risk.

To: Introduction | A Proposal | Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCs | Potential Pitfalls | Concluding Remarks | References | Footnotes


  1. Inspector General, Dept. of Defense (1994). "Review of the use of animals in Department of Defense medical research facilities." DoD Inspector General, Arlington, VA.

  2. National Association for Biomedical Research (1993). "Animal Rights Extremists: Impact on Public Health" (Pamphlet). NABR, Washington, D.C.

  3. National Health and Medical Research Council, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, and Australian Agricultural Council (1990). Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, p. 11.

  4. Novic, J.P. (1992). Statement before the Research and Development Subcommittee of the U.S. House Armed Services Committee, at the April 7, 1992, hearing on "The Use of Animals in Research by the Department of Defense." U.S. Government Printing Office [H.A.S.C. No. 102-36], Washington, D.C.

  5. Office for Protection from Research Risks (1986). Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD.

  6. Orlans, F.B. (1993). In the Name of Science, Issues in Responsible Animal Experimentation, Oxford University Press, New York.

  7. Orlans, F.B., Simmonds, R.C., and Dodds, W.J., eds. (1987). Effective Animal Care and Use Committees. Laboratory Animal Science, Special Issue, January.

  8. Sheldrake, R.F. (Executive Director, Research, Advisory, and Education, New South Wales Agriculture). Personal communication.

  9. Strandberg, J. (1987). "Membership issues." Laboratory Animal Science Special Issue, January: 35-38.

  10. U.S. Congress (1985). "Text of `Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act'." Congressional Record 131 (175): H12335-H12336.

  11. U.S. Congress (1985). Health Research Extension Act of 1985. Public Law 99-158, November 20, 1985.

  12. U.S. Congress (1992). "House Committee on Armed Services report 102-527, on the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1993."

  13. U.S. Department of Agriculture (1989). Federal Register 54(168): 36112-36163, Thursday, August 31,1989.

  14. Welborn, R.F. (1991). "Service on an Institutional Animal Committee." The Humane Society of the United States News Fall 1991: 19-21.

  15. Welborn, R.F. (1992). "The potential for the Institutional Animal Committee." The Humane Society of the United States News Spring 1992: 14-15.

  16. Wiebers, D.O., Leaning, J., and White, R.D. (1994). "Animal protection and medical science." Lancet 343: 902-904.

To: Introduction | A Proposal | Advantages of Appointing Animal Protectionists to IACUCs | Potential Pitfalls | Concluding Remarks | References | Footnotes


  1. We use the phrase "animal protectionist" instead of the narrow "animal rightist" to refer to animal advocates who may or may not believe in the philosophy of animal rights and in the complete abolition of vivisection.

  2. It is a little-known fact that the names of the NAMs and other IACUC members are available to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). These names are listed on the Animal Welfare Assurances that facilities submit to the PHS. When responding to FOIA requests, the PHS prefers to delete these names, but when pressed, will release them.

  3. The influene of even two NAMs would be diluted in large committees. In such cases, facilities should appoint NAMs in numbers sufficient to maintain the balance among IACUCs members implied in the congressional legislation.

  4. The AWA does require a minimum of one NAM and two affiliated members, one of whom must be a veterinarian. The PHS policy calls for a minimum of one NAM and four affiliated members, including a veterinarian with training or experienc e in laboratory animal science and medicine, a practicing scientist experienced in animal research, and a member whose primary concerns are in a non-scientific area, for example an ethicist, lawyer, or member of clergy.

  5. Individuals who fit this overall profile and are considering service as an NAM should themselves deliberate carefully. Some of the animal advocates who have served as NAMs have described their experience using words such as "miserab le," "anguish," and "stressful" (15). Individuals should think twice before putting themselves in a situation in which they are going to experience such emotions.

This article appeared in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Volume 5, Number 4, Winter 1994/1995

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