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TOO MANY TO COUNT: More than 111 million mice and rats are tortured in U.S. labs

LARRY CARBONE: We keep telling the public, ‘Don’t worry about research animals because there is rigorous government oversight', but that oversight covers less than 1% of the animals in labs.

DAVID GRIMM: The most numerous mammals in U.S. research are also the most invisible. Mice and rats comprise the vast majority of lab mammals, yet no one knows exactly — or even approximately — how many are used in scientific experiments every year. Now, for the first time, someone has attempted to calculate this number using data from U.S. labs, and it’s big: More than 111 million mice and rats are used annually in U.S. biomedical research, according to a new study. That represents more than 99% of all lab animals.

“It’s a very thoughtful and reasonable analysis,” says Sue Leary, president of the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation (ARDF), which seeks to reduce the number of animals in labs and find replacements. The figures are troubling, she says, because mice and rats are not covered by the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which enforces the humane treatment of research animals. “If the numbers are anywhere near correct, the amount of pain and suffering that’s occurring in these animals is completely unacceptable”…

But many in the biomedical community say the figures, published today in Scientific Reports, are a gross overestimation, and that the study itself is deeply flawed… Speaking of Research, which advocates for the use of lab animals. The organization’s own estimates… the number of rodents used annually in U.S. facilities at 10 million to 25 million. That would represent 93% to 97% of all U.S. research mammals… The National Association for Biomedical Research (NABR) has stated—based on its knowledge of research facilities—that 95% of all lab mammals in the United States are rodents. That would equal about 14.8 million animals…

In a new study, Larry Carbone… a veterinarian who worked for 4 decades in laboratory animal care at Cornell University and the University of California, San Francisco… tried to take a more scientific approach and focus on U.S. data. He also did something he had long been the target of when he ran animal facilities: File Freedom of Information Act requests. Animal rights groups often use such requests to dig up animal welfare infractions, which they then publicize to support their cause. But Carbone’s efforts were much more focused…

In all, he was able to collect data from 11 public and five private facilities, representing 16 of the top 30 funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The institutions reported using a total of about 39,000 animals covered by the AWA, including monkeys, dogs, and rabbits. They also reported using more than 5.5 million mice and rats.

That means rats and mice made up 99.3% of all mammals used at those places. If all U.S. institutions use the same proportion of these rodents versus other mammals, then USDA numbers include just 0.7% of all mammals used. Given that USDA reported about 780,000 animals at all biomedical facilities in 2018, Carbone concluded that approximately 111 million mice and rats are being used in U.S. research every year. His data also indicate that mice make up the vast majority of these rodents, more than 97%…

Carbone says the figures argue for including mice and rats in the AWA. “We keep telling the public, ‘Don’t worry about research animals because there is rigorous government oversight,’” he says. “But that oversight covers less than 1% of the animals in labs”… Peter Smith, associate director of Yale University’s Animal Resources Center, thinks Carbone’s estimates are close to the mark. “It’s a well–thought-out approach,” he says, “and about as good as anyone can do”…

Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute,… fought to include mice and rats in the AWA, says only this federal law gives someone the ability to file a complaint that must be investigated. “These animals merit the same level of protection that other animals get.” Matthew Bailey says that’s not realistic. The president of NABR, which has repelled efforts to include rats and mice in the AWA, he says the government doesn’t have the time or money to track so many animals, and that doing so would drain vital resources. “Now is not the time to be seeking additional restrictions on biomedical research or endeavoring to make it more difficult and more expensive”…

Carbone says he hopes his study will start an important conversation about whether to count mice and rats. “If we’re serious about reducing the number of lab animals we use and curbing the number of painful experiments, somebody has to be keeping track of these animals,” he says. “You can’t track progress if you can’t measure progress”. SOURCE…

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