In Animal Protection, America is Still Developing

EMMA HOLLOWELL—The biomedical community was rocked on November 18, 2015 when the National Institute of Health (NIH) announced its decision to retire all of its chimpanzees and permanently end testing on the primates. Citing its June 2013 decision to greatly reduce the stock of chimpanzees used for testing , followed by the US Fish and Wildlife June 2015 decision to designate captive chimpanzees as endangered, NIH noted a “tipping point” had been reached and it would no longer approve any testing on the animals.[1] This may seem like reason to applaud ourselves for being compassionate and doing the right thing; however, as Americans we should be embarrassed this development took so long.

At the time of NIH’s decision, America was one of just two countries in the entire world which allowed testing on Chimpanzees. The other country was Gabon, a small and developing African nation. By 2010, the EU had placed a complete ban on experiment on all great apes[2] (members of the Hominid family including humans, gorillas, bonobos, chimps, and orangutans).[3] The US has still yet to progress this far, as the November 2015 NIH decision makes clear, “[t]hese decisions are specific to chimpanzees. Research with other non-human primates will continue to be valued, supported, and conducted by the NIH.”[4]

Put plainly, America lags behind other similarly developed nations in the protections we afford to animals. Our neighbors across the pond have been protecting animals since 1911, with the Protection of Animals Act, designed to prevent outright cruelty to animals.[5] Since then, the UK has passed the Animal Welfare Act, which affords protections to all vertebrae other than man.[6] In America, we too have an Animal Welfare Act, first passed in 1966, and most recently amended in 2013.[7] But twisted and morphed over time, this law created to protect animals used in testing has become more useful to researchers than to animals. It is the only federal law regulating the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, and transport. [8] All public institutions and any research funded via the NIH must comply with the AWA. [9] Typically, this is easily done.

Though designed to ensure a minimum level of humane treatment to animals, the act defines animals only as, “any live or dead dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit,” or other animal determined by the Secretary.[10]   This notably leaves out rodents. The Humane Society of the United States points out than in our country, 85-90% of animals experimented on are either mice or rats.[11] This means the VAST majority of animals we test on are completely unprotected.

It seems clear that our protections of animals in America simply do not go far enough. Fallacy of our laws is one reason, and complacency of researchers within the biomedical field may well be another. It is also clear the distance we lag behind similarly developed countries in our treatment of test animals is great and there is much room for improvement on this front. It is now up to America to rejoin the other powerfully developed nations of the world in directing some compassion and legal protection to our non-human counterparts.

[1] Collins, Francis S. NIH Will No Longer Support Biomedical Research on Chimpanzees. National Institute of Health (Nov. 18, 2015),

[2] People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Chimpanzees in Laboratories, PETA (2016),

[3] Bradford, Alina. Facts About Apes. Live Science (May 29, 2015),

[4] Supra, note 1.

[5] BBC. Animal Welfare Act. BBC (2014),

[6] Animal Welfare Act 2006, c.45 §1(1).

[7] Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. §54 (2013).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Humane Society International. About Animal Testing. Human Society International (2016),


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *