A newly adopted policy change by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is giving animals used in scientific research a second chance in life.
The new measure allows for the “adoption, transfer, and retirement” of healthy animals to shelters and sanctuaries. Before, it was common practice to euthanize laboratory animals such as dogs, cats, and rabbits after their participation in experiments.
The policy took effect late last year but had not been previously disclosed by the agency, as was first reported by The Hill. IFLScience spoke with Monique Richards, a spokeswoman for the FDA, who confirmed the development of an internal policy for the placement of research animals after study completion.
“The November 2019 guideline expressly states the eligibility criteria for adoption, retirement, and transfer. This is not a procedural change, but a newly approved internal standard guideline developed to provide overarching support to enhance and promote harmonization of FDA animal research activities,” said Richards, adding that the policy has not been made public but that the guideline “expressly states the eligibility criteria for adoption, retirement, and transfer.”
It is also not clear who is able to adopt research animals or whether they are available to the general public. When asked who may adopt the animals or how that process is overseen, Richards adds that the “the animal program management, Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, and attending veterinarians in each FDA animal program use their professional expertise to decide on eligibility and placement.”
“The FDA has supported and continues to support the transfer, adoption or retirement of FDA-owned research study animals that have completed their assigned studies and meet applicable eligibility criteria,” she added.
The policy comes after the National Institute of Health (NIH) instated similar measures in August 2019 to allow for the adoption of lab animals after they are no longer needed for research, overhauling the agency’s previous policy of euthanizing animals after they are no longer needed. Under this policy, animals must be deemed in good health by veterinarians and placed as pets to an approved non-profit organization who will then adopt the animals out.
Similar legislation designed to overhaul federal regulations of the adoption of experimental animals currently sits in both the House and Senate. Organizations such as PETA support such measures, saying that animal testing is “cruel” and promotes unnecessary suffering that can instead be replaced with non-animal test methods. However, a report by NIH notes that animal testing has been an “essential component of every field of medical research” and “crucial for the acquisition of basic knowledge in biology,” contributing to the scientific understanding of diseases like Polio, AIDS, and the transplantation of skin and internal organs. Animal Research at Stanford shares the public’s concern for laboratory research animals, while adding that the use of animals is necessary to the “discovery of the causes, diagnoses, and treatment of diseases and suffering” in humans and animals alike.