A recent study of the membership of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) at U.S. universities found a disproportionate number of animal researchers and others working in animal research labs.
Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs) were developed to provide oversight of animal experiments at universities and to balance the interests of researchers, animals, institutions, and the general public. This study examined IACUC membership at the 25 universities in the United States that receive the most funding form the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The authors found that these IACUCs have an unbalanced number of animal researchers and others who work for the university, and comparatively few members representing animal welfare or the interests of the public. Although the study did not address the impact of IACUC composition on the research protocols that are selected or rejected, the report raises concerns.
Developing positive animal welfare policies requires the inclusion of animal perspectives in the decision-making process. Animal advocates have criticized IACUC committee membership for many years on the grounds that they primarily serve the interests of researchers at the expense of animal welfare. This study lends weight to these concerns by demonstrating that animal researchers make up the preponderance of IACUC members. Specifically, the authors found that animal researchers make up more than two-thirds of committee members.
There is reason for concern. A previous study by Hal Herzog and Scott Plous found that IACUCs approve 98 percent of their own protocols, on average, and that they rate their protocols more highly than very similar protocols at other institutions. While this suggests an innate bias and a propensity to "rubber stamp" research that uses animals, it does not necessarily indicate that IACUCs are anti-animal. The same study by Herzog and Plous found that two-thirds of IACUC members felt that rats and mice should be covered under the Animal Welfare Act which regulates the use of animals in research.
IACUC membership requirements are set by two agencies, the Public Health Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but neither agency requires an animal welfare person to be on the committee. Instead, the focus is on including members who are not affiliated with the research or the institution. The requirements are vague and subject to interpretation and if IACUCs are to provide meaningful oversight for animals, the committees should be required to include someone with an animal welfare perspective.
Research nutshells are produced in partnership with the Animals and Society Institute (ASI), an organization dedicated to policy-oriented research and human-animal studies. HRC and ASI already collaborate on multiple projects and we will work together to identify important studies for future research nutshells.
See the original post on the ASI website.