Animal rights have been a contentious issue ever since people first started domesticating goats over ten thousand years ago. With rising populations, disease became a rampant problem. This was followed by the realization of a need to research the human anatomy to treat diseases. People like Aristotle, Erasistratus, and Galen recognized this importance and devoted their lives to the research of human anatomy. Instead of dissecting people, which was illegal, they dissected animals. Testing and research done on animals have risen and continued to this day and remain a controversial topic.

In 1966, the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was signed into law, setting animal care and welfare standards. The AWA set the minimum standard for the use of animals in laboratories. The AWA allowed the use of dogs, cats, primates, hamsters, rabbits, and guinea pigs in laboratories, eventually extending to all warm-blooded animals in 1970. Currently, the laws surrounding animal rights in laboratories are weak and allow for the cruel treatment of animals within those laboratories.       

The AWA was passed by Congress in 1966, in response to an incident in 1955 when a pet was stolen, sold into research, and finally killed. Public outrage soon arose, after the articles “The Lost Pets that Stray to the Lab,” and “Concentration Camp for Dogs” were published in 1965 and 1966. The images and trauma from WWII were enough to spark public outrage and the creation of the Animal Welfare Act. There have been many provisions of the AWA, and the relevant provisions have a major impact on its function today. 

The provision that controls animals in laboratories is the Standards for Care and Treatment. Under this, the USDA creates minimum standards for the environments for animals in research facilities. This, however, excludes birds, rats, and mice, depriving them of their rights.

Recently, there has been growing concern for animal welfare in laboratories. Based on the US Department of Agriculture reports, 800,000 warm-blooded animals are used in research in the US alone, and 100,000 more are held in research facilities to be used in unregulated activities. Another 111.5 million rats and mice, excluded from the AW, are estimated to be used in research. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), only 8% of the drugs tested on animals in laboratories are considered safe for human use. However, recent focus has shifted to alternative methods of testing. In 2007, the National Research Council of the National Academies issued a report on toxicity testing. The report focused on the results of alternative testing methods other than animal testing and resulted in the recommendation of reducing or eliminating animal testing.

Alternative methods of testing have been introduced and hope has risen for the reduced or eliminated use of animal testing. The Interagency Coordination Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) is currently working with the National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods. The ICCVAM has endorsed the goal of eliminating animal research and has helped in accepting the use of 18 safe testing alternatives that do not require the use of live animals.

Despite the coverage of most animals under the AWA and other laws, rats, mice, birds, and fish are excluded from protective measures. These animals are the majority of animals used in research, and they are not protected by the law. Though the 1970 amendment covered warm-blooded animals, it was interpreted to not include birds and mice. Congress has amended the AWA to visibly exclude those animals from having rights, for political reasons.

The problem of animal testing is mostly found in the US. Scholars have written: “Many animal advocates are deeply frustrated by what they see as weak US laws that are unevenly enforced, especially when compared with legal advances in other countries and regions. For example, the European Union (EU) has banned the use of animals in the testing of cosmetics and household products.” Despite the advancement of other countries regarding the research of animals in laboratories, the US lags behind and struggles with laws concerning animal rights in laboratories.

Despite recent advancements in alternative research, the US still struggles with reducing and removing animal testing. Animal testing has its cruelties, further shown by the lack of legal protection for animals in laboratories. Rats, mice, birds, and fish, which make up the majority of laboratory testing, do not have rights or legal protection in laboratories. The AWA, which protects most-warm blooded animals, does not protect the majority of animals participating in testing. Alternative methods of research are being introduced. To stop the cruelty of animal testing, support for animal rights needs to rise and be brought to attention.