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City passes animal rights ordinance

By Prabhat Mehta

The Cambridge City Council yesterday approved an unprecedented measure to regulate animal research in the city's academic and private research institutions. The eight city councillors present unanimously approved an ordinance which would create a commissioner's post to oversee all research involving vertebrates at MIT and Harvard, as well as eleven other institutions. The ordinance may be the widest-reaching local restriction on animal research to date.

Under the new ordinance, research institutions which are not already compelled by federal or state laws to have animal care committees will be required to do so, and each of these committees will be required to have one "public" member not affiliated with the institution. The committees will have approval power over all research involving animals at their institutions, but the appointed commissioner will have veto power over any final decisions.

The commissioner will also have the authority to enter laboratories to assure that scientists are following state and federal guidelines for humane treatment. Laboratories violating those guidelines will face fines of $300 a day.

The ordinance was the result of recommendations made by the Mayoral Blue Ribbon Committee on Laboratory Animals in a hundred-page report submitted in February. The Blue Ribbon Committee consisted of three members, including John Moses, chairman of the Animal Care Committee at MIT. BRC recommendations were unanimously approved at a meeting of the Cambridge City Council on June 5, at which time the city solicitor was directed to draft a formal ordinance.

Although efforts to amend the ordinance to allow an animal rights advocate to serve as the public member on the individual animal care committees were defeated at yesterday's meeting, those in attendance -- many of whom wore patches identifying themselves as animal rights advocates -- applauded the final approval.

Spearheading the animal rights cause has been the Cambridge Committee for Responsible Research, which sponsored an early animal rights ordinance in 1986. After a year of debate over the ordinance, the city council called for the formation of the BRC to study the condition of laboratory animals in the city and make proposals. The BRC concluded that conditions in Cambridge laboratories were generally clean and healthy, but that public regulation would limit the potential for abuse.

After approval of the ordinance, Gul Agha, a spokesman for CCRR, expressed hope that the new ordinance would avoid mismanagement of animals in the city's research institutions.