Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Spring 1997, Vol. 8 No. 1 *************************

30 Years of the Animal Welfare Act

by
Congressman George E. Brown, Jr.

The author represents the 42nd District of California and has been instrumental in passage of animal welfare legislation in the U.S. Congress. This article is taken from a speech prepared by Congressman Brown in September 1996 commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Animal Welfare Act.

I appreciate the opportunity to be with you today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act is this Nation's primary Federal law regarding animal care, and it sets standards for the treatment of animals by breeders, exhibitors, and transporters, as well as research facilities using animals in research. The passage of the Animal Welfare Act was a monumental achievement, and it has been improved upon through subsequent amendments. However, all of us who work on these issues know that more still needs to be done in the next 30 years.

Advocates of a humane ethic for animals are gaining momentum in this country. This movement gains its strength from a very basic philosophy regarding the sacredness of life. While recognizing the role that animals have traditionally played in society as food sources, companions, and research models, we have to always remember that animals are sensing, living beings capable of feeling fear and pain, and that they must be respected as such.

There are few issues confronting Congress where the advocates hold such an emotional commitment. Promoting proper care and protection of animals has been a priority of mine throughout my public career. Several issues were being brought before the California State Legislature when I was a representative close to 40 years ago. And to be quite frank, these issues are, more often than not, low on the overall political agenda of our policymakers and are not regarded as the most critical issues of the times.

As you know, politicians are fairly slow to propose controversial changes. To be too far in the forefront of our changing culture is to commit political suicide. Because of the lack of political motivation and the unfortunate opposition which many times accompanies efforts to improve the treatment of animals, changes made regarding animal welfare laws have been gradual changes over time, designed to keep abreast, or at least to minimally address, changing views in our society. The Animal Welfare Act and the subsequent amendments, therefore, represent important, but moderate changes, made in response to the growing concern about the welfare of animals.

In October 1981, we held hearings in the Science Subcommittee reviewing current practices of laboratory animal care, use, and treatment. The 2 days of public hearings centered on testimony by representatives from Federal agencies, animal welfare societies, and research and educational institutions.

The hearings were a result of an individual's claims to police a month before and the subsequent arrest of a researcher and his animal caretaker on charges that 17 monkeys were being mistreated at a Silver Spring, Maryland, research facility.

The subcommittee's review also provided grounds for additional congressional hearings that focused on the Animal Welfare Act. Senator Bob Dole conducted hearings in 1983, and I held hearings in 1984. The testimony presented at those hearings was, by and large, the basis for legislation that we sponsored in 1984 and 1985 -- the "Improved Standards for Laboratory Animals Act." The purpose of the legislation was to amend some provisions of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in light of allegations that the U.S. Department of Agriculture was not adequately enforcing the standards established for the care and treatment of laboratory animals.

This legislation addressed the legitimate concerns which arose from well-publicized accounts of substandard research facilities which had neglected animals and grossly violated animal care regulations. It was basically another step to bring our laws a little closer to the growing concern about the care of laboratory animals. At the same time, the legislation was moderate and did not place an unbearable burden upon research institutions.

The 1985 amendments strengthened standards of animal care by requiring the use of pain killers and presurgical and postsurgical care, requiring animal care training for personnel who work with animals, requiring euthanasia of an animal upon completion of an experiment, and provided for exercise of dogs and a physical environment to promote the psychological well-being of nonhuman primates. The amendments also required the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to inspect facilities at least once a year and to inspect Federal agencies' facilities. It also established a national information service [the Animal Welfare Information Center] on alternative research procedures, as well as on ways to reduce unintended duplication of experiments.

Ideally, it would be nice if we could develop sufficient alternative procedures to be able to eliminate the use of live animals altogether, through the use of tissue cultures, computer programs, and other models. I strongly support the development of alternatives to the use of live animals wherever possible. While Chairman of the Subcommittee on Science, Research, and Technology, I held hearings on the use of animals in research and on alternative research methods. In this subcommittee, I had the opportunity to work on legislation providing for the humane care of laboratory animals and which encouraged the development of alternatives to the use of live animals in research.

In addition to the issue of the care and treatment of animals, the problem of lost or stolen companion animals being used for research was also a major motivation for the original enactment of the Animal Welfare Act.

Unfortunately, the Animal Welfare Act has not had great success in preventing lost or stolen pets from entering the research animal trade. This is mainly because the statute allows individuals who gather animals from random sources to be licensed by the USDA to provide these animals to research facilities. These dealers, known as Class B dealers, routinely buy and sell stolen family pets, purchase animals without records from public auctions, and "adopt" animals from pounds and families under false pretenses.

For many years, I have been deeply concerned that the pet theft provisions of the Animal Welfare Act are not being adequately enforced. It has been revealed, through the media and through USDA's own Inspector General, that inspectors have knowingly ignored repeated violations of Federal laws, including the falsification of records of animal origins, the only way to ensure that stolen animals are not entering the research animal trade.

As Chairman of the Department [of Agriculture] Operations, Resources, and Foreign Agriculture Subcommittee, I held a hearing on the Pet Theft Act during the 100th Congress. This measure was designed to protect household pets from being stolen and sold to research laboratories. This legislation had passed the Senate but failed to reach the House floor before Congress adjourned.

In April of this year [1996] I joined Congressman Charles Canady in introducing H.R. 3398, the Pet Safety and Protection Act, which would amend the Animal Welfare Act to ensure that all dogs and cats used by research facilities are obtained legally.

Adequately addressing the problem of pet theft is one of many challenges that APHIS and the Animal Welfare Act will face in the coming years. In the areas of animal care and treatment, the Animal Welfare Act needs to be strengthened and improved upon. This may require USDA coming to Congress and requesting legislation that will grant them greater authority to effectively enforce the Act.

The USDA Inspector General's January 1995 report -- Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act -- stated, "APHIS does not have the authority ... to effectively enforce the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act." I am deeply concerned with the agency's ability and willingness to adequately monitor and reasonably ensure the humane care and treatment of animals.

Lack of adequate resources is part of the problem associated with APHIS' ability to adequately monitor and inspect animals and facilities and to enforce the pet theft provisions of the Animal Welfare Act. In the past, I have testified before the Appropriations Committee in favor of increased funding for enforcement of the AWA. Members of Congress concerned about the funding levels for APHIS had to be particularly diligent during the Reagan Administration, when repeated attempts were made to eliminate entirely funds to enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

In addition to fiscal constraints, however, the Inspector General's report indicates that APHIS has been neglecting its statutory obligations and has renewed facility licenses even when cited violations past and present had not yet been corrected. Additionally, APHIS is not inspecting research facilities before issuing the initial registrations; therefore, noncompliance with the Act may go unnoticed until APHIS' first inspection up to a year later.

It was clearly the intent of Congress that facilities should come into compliance before being issued the initial registrations. Section 2.3 of the Animal Welfare Act, among others, implicitly gives APHIS the authority to conduct inspections and to deny renewals.

I hope that the advances made through the Animal Welfare Act and other legislation aimed at protecting animals can be improved upon in future years. Much more needs to be done to ensure that the animals in our care are treated humanely. This should not be seen as a threat to the research community. It is simply a reaction to the growing concerns of society and should be accepted as such. And it is in the best interest of those who rely on animals to accept this growing change and work with policymakers to develop legislation which addresses the concerns of the animal welfare movement while, at the same time, developing regulations which do not cause unreasonable burdens.

A large portion of Americans feel strongly that animal care laws are important and should be enforced. The Animal Welfare Act has provided a baseline of humane care that is necessary and just. I am hopeful that we can move forward from here and provide a more meaningful level of protection for the thousands of animals under the current jurisdiction of APHIS. I look forward to seeing us move forward into the next 30 years of the Animal Welfare Act building on past successes and with a progressive approach toward rectifying the remaining problems associated with the enforcement of the Act.


This article appeared in the Animal Welfare Information Center Newsletter, Volume 8, Number 1, Spring 1997

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December 12, 1997
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