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Cambridge first city to regulate animal research

By Linda D'Angelo

The Cambridge City Council set a nationwide precedent last month when it approved an ordinance regulating animal experimentation in all universities and private institutions in Cambridge, according to Ken Russell, assistant director of a lobbying group, the Cambridge Committee for Responsible Research. This represents the "first time that any legislature has decided that animal research needs greater regulation," Russell said.

Although the ordinance heightens public awareness of the issue, it will not result in any major changes in the regulation of MIT laboratories, according to MIT spokesman Ronald P. Suduiko.

In the past animal research at MIT has been monitored by an animal care and use committee which includes a "good cross-section of representatives," Suduiko said. The committee conducts a monthly review of animal research proposals and facilities. And since it is federally funded, MIT has always been subject to annual federal and state inspections, Suduiko added.

The unanimous approval of the council's ordinance on June 26 ended a process that began in May 1987 when the council banned certain animal research procedures commonly practiced in the city's 13 research institutions. The Draize test, used mainly in the testing of cosmetics, was banned as was the LD50, in which groups of animals are poisoned without anesthesia until half of them die.

This move "marked the first time any research procedure had been banned because it was considered cruel and unnecessary" and caused the CCRR to sponsor the initial ordinance, Russell said. This, coupled with a "tremendous outpouring from Cambridge citizens and students," led Cambridge Mayor Alfred Vellucci to appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee. The recommendations of this BRC formed the basis for the legislation.

The ordinance requires the appointment of a commissioner of laboratory animals to "oversee the care and use animals" by performing unannounced inspections. It further specifies that the CLA should "possess an understanding of animal welfare, physiology and psychology" but not be "aligned with an antivivisection or research institution."

Institutions are required to register with the CLA and provide him with information such as the "number and species of animals used" and the "result of all federal and state inspections concerning animal care and use in the previous year." This increased communication is important, according to Suduiko, because rather than a "crisis management situation," it fosters an "ongoing relationship in the interest of the animals."

As the "representative of the public," the CLA would "bring information back to the public," Russell explained.

This reporting feature would "provide assurance to the city that the requirements were being adhered to" as well as provide a vehicle for any questions raised by the public, Suduiko said.

The establishment of an autonomous animal care committee with the power to disapprove or restrict research is also specified. The committee must include an "individual who is not affiliated with the institution in any way and who is neither aligned with an antivivisection nor a biomedical movement."

Attempts had been made to extend the requirements for this un-affiliated individual to include being "an animal welfare advocate." But the "institutions felt very strongly" about this and "a tremendous amount of pressure was brought to bear about this one point," Russell said. The attempts were defeated by the council.

Lastly, the ordinance makes all institutions in Cambridge subject to federal and state regulations. Previously, privately funded institutions which did not use cats, dogs or primates in their research where excluded from these regulations.

The main goal of the ordinance is the strengthening of public accountability, according to Russell. "Millions of dollars of federal money, tax money, are spent on animal research and some of it is questionable," he explained. So rather than allow "researchers to approve each other's research," the ordinance "opens the process to public scrutiny" and prevents "public money from being spent behind closed doors."

Although it was not adopted in the ordinance, the requirement of an animal rights advocate on animal care and use committees is still an option, according to Russell. If these committees were "modeled after the institutional review boards which regulate human research subjects," an advocate for animal rights would be included to represent "the interests of the vulnerable subjects," he added.

Furthermore, the appointment of an animal rights advocate to the animal care and use committee would provide "an alternative perspective," Russell said. This could only help, he noted, for the "more people giving ideas, the better the science."

This ordinance shows that "medical research can be carried on, while at the same time providing appropriate care to the animals," Suduiko said.

While MIT has been "concerned historically" with the use of animals in research, Suduiko said he believed the ordinance will make people "more committed to providing the right level of care to the animals."

In the past animal research at MIT has been monitored by an animal care and use committee which includes a "good cross-section of representatives," Suduiko said. The committee conducts a monthly review of animal research proposals and facilities. And since it is federally funded, MIT has always been subject to annual federal and state inspections.