The need to have regulatory oversight for animal welfare in research laboratories was recognized in late 19th century Great Britain, and led to the Cruelty to Animals Act. Early national animal welfare legislation in the U.S. concerned the transport of farm animals, but was silent on laboratory animals. However, individual states (e.g., New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts) began passage of laws to regulate laboratory animals as early as 1866. The first piece of national legislation regulating the care and use of laboratory animals was the Animal Welfare Act of 1966. In the 19th and early 20th century there were no standards for the care of laboratory animals. This responsibility lay with the laboratory director, resulting in significant differences in care between laboratories, even within the same institution. Even if scientists wanted to have high standards of laboratory animal welfare, there were no organizations dedicated to establishing standards for the care, maintenance, and breeding of laboratory animals. Inconsistency in laboratory animal care led to inconsistency in research results, as well as problems in conducting long term studies since many animals had chronic infections.
The establishment of the Animal Care Panel, which eventually became the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS), provided the infrastructure needed to produce the first edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. This is the primary reference for animal care policies and guidelines in the U.S., as well as many other countries in the world. AALAS appointed an Animal Accreditation Committee to evaluate animal research facilities in the 1960s, using the standards in the Guide. This committee eventually became an independent organization (Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International) devoted to the assessment and accreditation of laboratory animal facilities around the world.
National standards for laboratory animal care were enacted in 1966 (The Laboratory Animal Welfare Act), with enforcement authority given to USDA. The act required research labs and dealers to be licensed and be subject to inspection. However, the current Act still excludes most rodents, birds, and farm animals used in production agriculture.
The first Public Health Service policy on laboratory animal care and use (1973) evolved from an NIH policy, and has undergone several revisions. These policies introduced the concept of periodic evaluations of the standards of care and use of laboratory animals in institutions that received PHS support. These evaluations could be carried out by an institutional committee or a recognized professional laboratory accrediting body. However, under this policy AAALAC accredited institutions were not required to have an evaluation committee, since AAALAC subsumed this function. However, in 1979 a revision to the PHS policy required all animal using grantee institutions to have a committee to maintain oversight of its animal program. Over the ensuing years recommendations as to committee membership have become codified into the policy, with written requirements for training of investigators in animal care and use. Eventually, both the USDA and the Department of Defense instituted requirements that an animal care and use committee be established at research institutions or sponsored labs.
(From OLAW list serve 3 March 11): The NIH, USDA, and FDA have participated under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Concerning Laboratory Animal Welfare for more than two decades. Each agency, operating under its own authority, has specific responsibilities for fostering proper animal care and welfare. This agreement sets forth a framework for reciprocal cooperation intended to enhance agency effectiveness while avoiding duplication of efforts in achieving required standards for the care and use of laboratory animals. The new MOU is available at: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/references/finalmou.htm.