The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses lab animals to test the effects of some medical products, like drugs and vaccines, before the drugs move on to clinical trials using human test subjects. Each year, around 800,000 animals are used in regulated laboratory facilities. The FDA has plans to reduce the use of dogs, cats, and primates in testing, but the agency says some animal testing is necessary. It gives them an insight into things like how quickly medication is absorbed into the body, and how quickly it wears off.
But the so-called "necessary evil" just got less bad. The FDA updated their policy to allow for adoption of retired healthy research animals. Lab animals used to be euthanized once research was over - even if they were healthy. Now, dogs, cats, rabbit, guinea pigs, and some farm animals are all permitted to find happy homes once their lab days are over.
And in case you were wondering, they make good pets. Justin Goodman, of animal advocacy group the White Coat Waste Project, says that animals can still "thrive," despite going through lab tests. Most of the animals have never been outside before and need a little TLC in the adjustment process. "Animals who are going to be adopted out are going to need to go to families or rescues and sanctuaries that are going to have the time and patience and expertise to help them adjust," Goodman told The Hill.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institute of Health also made similar changes in their treatment of retired lab animals. The changes come after a bipartisan animal welfare push. Sen. Susan Collins introduced the Animal Freedom from Testing, Experiments and Research (AFTER) Act last year, which would require federal labs to place animals in rescue shelters or retirement sanctuaries after research is completed.
"There is no reason why regulated research animals that are suitable for adoption or retirement should be killed by our federal agencies," Collins said in a statement to The Hill. "I'm pleased that the FDA has joined the NIH and VA in enacting a lab animal retirement policy."
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Hopefully, more government agencies follow suit. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture are some of the government agencies that currently don't have retirement policies for lab animals.
There are still ethical issues when it comes to using animals for research purposes, but giving animals a shot at a happy life instead of euthanizing them feels like a step in the right direction.
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