Panel gives ARS animal care advicePanel gives ARS animal care advice
Phase 2 of ARS review recommends ways to improve research animal care oversight.
July 17, 2015
THE second phase of a review of animal welfare and care policies for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) found no evidence of poor animal handling or abuse, but it did recommend establishing more defined guidelines for the oversight committees and attending veterinarians.
The ARS — Animal Handling & Welfare Review Panel visited five ARS research sites in the aftermath of a scathing New York Times report earlier this year on animal handling at a Nebraska ARS site.
The five ARS sites were: the Livestock & Range Research Laboratory in Miles City, Mont.; the Livestock Behavior Research Unit in West Lafayette, Ind.; the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory in Athens, Ga.; the Richard B. Russell Agricultural Research Center in Athens, and the National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa.
Dr. Aaron Olsen, chair of the panel and director of the Laboratory Animal Research Center at Utah State University, said a key finding was that the role and expectations of the Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee (IACUC) and attending veterinarian were not uniformly understood at all ARS facilities.
The primary function of the IACUC is to act as an agent for the welfare and well-being of animals used in research, while the attending veterinarian plays a crucial role in promoting animal welfare.
For instance, at the Ames National Animal Disease Center, the panel found that IACUC protocols listed the researcher (who is also a veterinarian) as the only contact for veterinary care issues. The panel suggested that a research veterinarian should not also fill the role of clinical veterinarian for treatment or handling of animals beyond the required research protocol.
The panel recommended that ARS work to harmonize expectations of the IACUC across all sites that use animals in research.
The panel report explains that for the IACUC to fulfill its welfare and oversight functions, it is vital for it to have adequate administrative and financial support.
The panel urged facility directors to "make animal welfare oversight responsibilities a priority when considering budgetary needs and provide strong administrative support to individuals tasked with participating in oversight activities."
Olsen noted that some IACUC members felt that the time served on the committee was a "diversion or distraction" from their main research goals.
Participation in research oversight activities, such as service on the animal welfare oversight committees, should be an important part of an individual's career development path, the report says. Such service should be appropriately considered and recognized during routine personnel evaluations and as part of considerations for advancement or promotion.
The panel found that in most instances, the physical facilities were adequate for the research being conducted, and in some instances, physical facilities were excellent. However, the advancing age of some facilities was apparent.
The panel recommended providing adequate funding to maintain current facilities while upgrading or replacing aging facilities.
The panel also suggested that ARS should provide a means for animal care staff to share innovations and best practices both within and outside the ARS organization.
Concurrent with sharing best practices, the panel recommended that ARS develop means to identify and appropriately recognize individuals who provide exceptional animal care and/or develop unique and innovative techniques that lead to improved animal welfare.
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