There are important bills in Congress to address some of the worst problems in animal research, such as the costly invasive research on chimps and the trafficking in stolen pets for research. But the state legislatures, too, have been working to address important laboratory animal welfare issues. Yesterday, The Humane Society of the United States testified in support of new Maine legislation that would protect animals used in experiments in the state from severe suffering. LD 779, sponsored by Denise Harlow, D-Portland, would prohibit severe pain and distress caused to animals during experimental procedures, their handling and care, or any other conditions in Maine research institutions.
Rep. Harlow spoke of the importance of protecting animals and recounted how a friend’s experience working in an animal research lab reinforced her interest in sponsoring this legislation. We applaud her leadership on this issue. If passed, this would be the first state law in the nation to protect laboratory animals from extreme pain and distress.
During yesterday’s hearing in front of the Joint Standing Committee on Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry, my colleague Kathleen Conlee, senior director of animal research issues for The HSUS, recounted her past experiences working in a primate breeding and research facility where she witnessed suffering that could have been avoided or alleviated with anesthetics, pain killers, palliative care, behavioral management, and other measures. Conlee recalled witnessing monkeys in prolonged pain following major operations; monkeys mutilating themselves and suffering from anxiety as a result of maternal deprivation as infants and social isolation as adults; and other monkeys who were debilitated and in chronic pain due to an unknown wasting disease.
As expected, those who testified in opposition to the bill tried to argue that animals are adequately protected under federal laws—but that simply isn’t the case. Federal laws, including the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Public Health Service Policy, place no restrictions on the level of suffering caused to animals. Furthermore, certain institutions have no federal oversight at all, such as those that rely on private funding and use species not regulated by the AWA. Astoundingly, mice and rats bred and used for research aren’t protected by the AWA, even though they make up 95 percent of the animals used. Congress never intended the AWA to stand as a roadblock to local animal protection laws, and specifically included a provision in the AWA making clear that the Act "shall not prohibit any state (or a political subdivision of such state) from promulgating standards" of care on their own.
For these reasons, state legislation to restrict the worst levels of animal suffering is appropriate and essential. LD 779 would provide protection to all vertebrate animals from the worst levels of suffering. Opinion polls show that 75 percent of the public opposes animal research that causes severe suffering—so LD 779 would help to narrow the gap between institutional research practices and public sentiments.
We urge Maine lawmakers to pass this bill to provide this basic protection to the estimated millions of animals used for research in the state. Animals in laboratories deserve protection from the worst levels of suffering. If you live in Maine, please contact your representatives today and ask them to support LD 779.