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

It's not just the 'Law,' it's a good idea!

Stephen Dubin, V.M.D., Ph.D.
Biomedical Engineering and Science Institute
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


"It is certainly an understatement to say that the current U.S. Animal Welfare Act and its implementation are a disappointment to animal rights advocates. There is, however, a provision of the Act which is both well-conceived and nicely implemented. That is the Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) with its headquarters at the National Agricultural Library in Beltsville, Maryland. It is, indeed, the "rose among the briars."

Veterinary students and others interested in promoting the well-being of nonhuman animals can obtain much useful information by studying the provisions of the Animal Welfare Act regarding AWIC and, particularly, how you can make use of their resources and services. We also need to be particularly well-prepared with literature citations to help reinforce discussion with those who are not "members of the choir."

To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |

Historical and Legal Background

As with most Federal laws, the statute itself contains only the general goals and an outline of implementation. Much of the actual business end of the law is contained in the accompanying regulations. In addition to advocating that activities "avoid or minimize discomfort, distress, and pain to the animaIs," these regulations actually contain the "A" word - "alternatives." The investigator has a positive obligation to search for alternatives to nonhuman animal suffering or distress as well as to avoid unnecessary duplication of procedures involving them and to provide a written description of those endeavors. Institutional authorities may want to limit public access to this information where trade secrets or the national security interest might be compromised. But these factors would hardly be justified when dealing with classroom instruction or student laboratories.

Because of these information requirements, AWIC was established in 1986 in keeping with a provision (Section 13(e)) of the Animal Welfare Act (PL 99-189). In describing the mission of AWIC, the Act uses a form of the "three R's" --
The Secretary shall establish an information service at the National Agricultural Library. Such service shall, in cooperation with the National Library of Medicine provideinformation--

  1. pertinent to employee training;
  2. which could prevent unintended duplication of animal experimentation as determined by the needs of the research facility; and
  3. on improved methods of animal experimentation, including methods which could --
    (A) reduce or replace animal use; and
    (B) minimize pain and distress to animals, such as anesthetic and analgesic procedures.

From the practical standpoint, AWIC resources are not confined to the narrow limits of the Act. Furthermore, the staff seems very willing to provide information in the wider context of animaI welfare issues, including use of nonhuman animals in classroom instruction, food production, free animal protection, hunting and trapping, as well as general environmental concerns.

To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |

People at AWIC

The main task at AWIC is the acquisition and distribution of animal-related information. All of the information specialists have either educational or research backgrounds in some branch of animal science. At least one is particularly well-informed on wildlife and environmental matters. Others have extensive experience with farm animal care and the use of animals in pharmaceutical and agricultural research. All can help with questions relating to classroom instruction, science fair projects, and research applications. They are able to help us and they are willing to do it.
To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |


As with the other USDA information centers (food and nutrition, alternative farming, water quality, etc.), AWIC resources include those found in the center headquarters as well as the general information assets of NAL. AWIC maintains an extensive specialized collection of books, periodicals, pamphlets, news clippings, legislative documents, films, videotapes, CD's, and other computer storage media specifically in the area of animal welfare. I have been surprised to see publications -- particularly European ones -- that I had not seen before or elsewhere. The collection is eclectic, including the whole spectrum of animal advocacy and exploitation viewpoints.

In the AWIC office, access is available to many online databases through DIALOG. These include AGRICOLA (of which more later), MEDLINE, EMBASE, BIOSIS, CAB, and other life sciences topics. Other legal, bioethics, and specific subject databases are also accessed. [Ed. note: AWIC also has access to the PREX database at Utrecht University. This is one of the best laboratory animal science databases available. Contact AWIC for details. More information on this database will be in the next AWIC newsletter.] AWIC also makes information available through NAL's AGRICOLA database. AWIC is responsible for recommending policies and subject coverage for indexing materials on:

Through their activities over the years, the AWIC staff has developed an extensive network of experts and organizations to which they can turn for help or for referral of patrons. This same long experience has given them the ability, very often, to provide answers from their own knowledge or local files.

NAL is one of three national libraries; the others being the Library of Congress and the National Library of Medicine. It is located in Beltsville, Maryland, on the grounds of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. NAL has more than 2 million items including books, periodicals, reports, audiovisual materials, and computer media. Most of these are available to the public for use in the library or by interlibrary loan to other institutions. As with any large library collection, there are some rare and fragile materials with very limited access. NAL is now active in making these items more accessible by recording them on CD's, videodiscs, and other digital media. [Ed. note: Audiovisual materials and books are not loaned outside the United States and its Territories.]

AGRICOLA is a database for reference to more than 3 million citations on materials in NAL's collection. It is searchable through terminals in the library, online through DIALOG and PREX, and on CD through Silver Platter.

To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |

AWIC Services

There is an old saying, "Give someone a piece of tofu and they can eat for one day. Teach them how to stir-fry and they can eat forever." A major outreach of AWIC is in training others how to gather information on their own. Several times each year AWIC presents a workshop, "Meeting the Information Requirements of the Animal Welfare Act." This is offered at the National Agricultural Library and at other locations around the country by invitation. There is no registration charge and the take-home materials are mountainous. When I attended, the attendees included veterinarians, medical librarians, and regulatory officials. The program gives an excellent introduction to general database searching, AWIC's and NAL's services, the requirements of the Animal Welfare Act, and an overview of IACUC responsibilities and protocol review. There are practical sessions where the participants actually search several topics with the help of the staff and the other participants. Registration is free, and lodging is available at moderate cost.

AWIC people, along with their posters, pamphlets, and computers, are quite visible at veterinary and scientific conventions, research seminars, and other conferences. They host individual visitors and classes at AWIC headquarters and accommodate scholars and others who want to conduct research.

To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |


In addition to help and instruction provided in person, AWIC has numerous publications that are available, free of charge, to the public. These include Quick Bibliographies (QB), Special Research Briefs (SRB), AWIC Series, Fact Sheets, and the AWIC Newsletter. The catalog is too long to recite in full; perhaps a few examples will suffice.

Environmental Enrichment information Resources for Laboratory Animals 1965 - 1995 is one of the most recent in the AWIC Series. Although the title would seem to limit the scope, this 300-page book covers birds, cats, dogs, and farm animals, as well as ferrets, rabbits, and rodents. For each species group, there is a brief introductory article dealing with the natural behavior and environment followed by many hundreds of well-annotated references. Appendixes include journal listing and subscription information, organizations and international resources, suppliers of environmental enrichment products, and common enrichment programs.

I brought a class to AWIC for help in developing a report on alternatives to the LD50 test. One of their major tasks was to be the preparation of a complete bibliography. To my chagrin and my students' delight, AWIC staff brought out SRB 92-12, The LD50 (Median Lethal Dose) and LC50 (Median Lethal Concentration) Toxicity Tests. This special research brief begins with a short introduction and definition of terms (another obligatory part of the student's report). It continues with 307 literature citations covering various alternatives topics ranging from reclassification of hazardous substances, computer models, structure activity relationships, tissue culture methods, and methodological weaknesses of current toxicology methods.

To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |

Means of Access

In addition to a personal visit, there are several avenues for initial and remote access to AWIC. Beginning with the most conventional, the address is

Animal Welfare Information Center
U.S. Department of Agriculture
National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Avenue
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351

The main phone number is (301) 504-6212 and the fax number is (301) 504-7125. TTY (for hearing impaired) is 301-504-6856.

You may use e-mail to contact any of the information specialists: Tim Allen (,
D'Anna Jensen (,
Mike Kreger
Cynthia Smith
Richard Crawford, D.V.M., (
Jean Larson, AWIC Coordinator, can be reached at Contact us: AWIC can also be accessed on the web at

To: Introduction | Historical and Legal Background | People at AWIC | Resources |
AWIC Services | Publications | Means of Access | A Final Word |

A Final Word

Medicine, for whatever species, is replete with Latin mottos. Some, like Primum non nocere (First do no harm), often seem almost beyond reach. Others like Accipe dum dolens (Get their money while it still hurts) are all too commonplace. One which is exemplified by the mission of AWIC and which can be a practical beginning for activity to mitigate nonhuman animal suffering is Sapere audete. Dare to know!

Stephen Dubin, V.M.D., Ph.D.
Biomedical Engineering and Science Institute
Drexel University
Philadelphia, PA 19104
phone: 215-895-2219, fax: 215-895-4983
CIS: 76074,55

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

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The Animal Welfare Information Center
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Research Service
National Agricultural Library
10301 Baltimore Ave.
Beltsville, MD 20705-2351

Phone: (301) 504-6212
FAX: (301) 504-7125
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December 12, 1997
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