Institutional Animal Care & Use Committee

The Animal Welfare Act

First passed in 1966 as Public Law-89-544, the most recent amendment of the Animal Welfare Act (Public Law 99-198, Food Security Act) strengthened existing standards for proper laboratory animal care. It also included provisions for increased enforcement of the requirements outlined in the Act, mandated training for laboratory personnel, and provided for mechanisms to disseminate information about animal experiments. This latter provision was included to reduce unnecessary duplication of experiments. Requirements were included that deal with such issues as the need to explicitly consider alternative techniques, provide an enhanced physical environment to increase physical and psychological well-being, and the development of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs).

The IACUC should consist of at least three members, including one not affiliated with the research facility and/or school and a doctor of veterinary medicine. The committee inspects as research facilities at least once every six months and reviews all proposals for research involving the use of animals. As part of the proposal review process, the committee evaluates procedures for pain and distress, proper use of analgesics and anesthetics, and the proper use of euthanasia if needed. In addition, the IACUC is charged with the responsibility to make sure that all procedures are carried out by qualified personnel and that alternatives have been seriously considered. Lastly, the IACUC is required to provide appropriate training for all personnel in the humane practice of animal maintenance and experimentation, appropriate testing and research methodology, and proper facility maintenance.

An IACUC can be either accredited by the American Association for the Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC; see below) or nonaccredited. Nonaccredited institutions should provide a plan for meeting AAALAC accreditation standards. According to AAALAC guidelines, the IACUC should include a minimum of at least five members including a director, a veterinarian, a non-life scientist such as a physicist, and a member not affiliated with the institution. Typically, the latter member represents community animal welfare concerns.

Consideration of Alternative Methodologies and Effective Research Design

The Federal regulations (i.e., the Animal Welfare Act) require serious consideration of alternatives to the research and/or testing methods. This is especially true if the protocol includes a procedure that produces pain and/ or distress in the subjects. Unnecessary research should not be duplicated. Alternative techniques are discussed in considerable detail at the Animal Welfare Center of the National Agricultural Library. This agency also acts as a repository for research that involves the use of animals and, thus, is a valuable resource.

The basic goal as defined by the Act is the so-called "Three R's" — Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement. Replacement means considering insentient material instead of conscious living organisms. Typically, this involves the use of tissue cultures or nonrecovery techniques. Reduction refers to reducing the number of animals in the experiment. This can be accomplished through the use of more sophisticated statistical designs, such as repeated measures or mixed designs. Lastly, Refinement refers to reducing the need for or severity of invasive procedures. The goal is to reduce pain and distress. The goals under this "R" include decreases in invasiveness, use of improved instrumentation, better techniques, and a greater control over the level of pain experienced by the animals.


  • Bennett, B. T., Brown, M. J., & Schofield, J. C. (1990). Essentials for animal research: A primer. Available: The American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine.
  • Melby, Jr., E. C., & Altman, N. H. (Eds.). (1974). Handbook of laboratory animal science. New York: Academic Press.
  • National Academy Press (1996). Guide for the care and use of laboratory animals. Washington, DC: Author.
  • Public Law 99-198 (1986).  Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Subchapter A, Animal Welfare.
  • Universities Federation of Animal Welfare (1987). The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare Handbook on the care and management of laboratory animals (6th ed.). New York: Churchhill Livingstone.