#FactCheckNeeded. A closer look at exaggerated claims about US bill and animal research impacts

January 17th 2020

In late December headlines appeared suggesting that the US has passed legislation to significantly compromise the use of animals in federally-funded research.

For example:

A handful of legislators with a history of anti-animal research positions tweeted their support for this “good news.”

Groups such as the White Coat Waste Project, that are strongly opposed to the use of animals in publicly-funded research, quickly congratulated legislators and claimed victory.

Even Science magazine amplified the news with an article titled: “2020 U.S. spending bill restricts some animal research, pushes for lab animal retirement.” 

Wait a second! What really happened?

As we wrote in July and November of last year, Rep. Roybal-Allard (D-CA) inserted language about NIH’s intramural nonhuman primate research program in a report accompanying the Fiscal Year 2020 House Appropriations Bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education and Related Agencies (LHHS; see page 114). The non-binding language (see top image in the graphic below) directed the agency to prepare a report that addresses six items, including “a detailed strategy and timeline for the reduction and replacement of NIH primate research with alternative research methods” and a standard procedure for retirement of animals no longer needed in research.

However, the language in the report accompanying the final bill that was enacted into law is much less restrictive (see bottom image in graphic above). In fact, it hails the importance of nonhuman primates in biomedical research and does not call for NIH to retire any animals. A number of other countries in the EU also have similar statements on using alternatives to animals whenever their use is unnecessary, so this position by the US government is not new. What is new is the #FactCheckNeeded on the claims being made by the media and for media sources to #AskScientists about their use of animals in research, its necessity and importance.


Take-away points:

  1. Join the Speaking of Research social media movement and tag such unsubstantiated exaggeration clearly aimed to bias the opinion of the American public with #FactCheckNeeded and #AskScientists.
  2. Federally funded research with animals is only conducted when necessary and in the most appropriate animal species. Animal research is strictly regulated, and only work that is scientifically robust and conducted with the highest ethical standards is ever approved for funding.
  3. Nearly everyone, scientists included, believes that in the future the use of nonhuman animals in some kinds of research and testing can be reduced as alternatives are developed. In some cases it may eventually not be needed at all. However, claiming that alternatives exist right now and that it is possible right now for all animal research to be ended without negative consequences for public health, scientific and medical advances, is false. The false claim risks jeopardizing the actual good news that animal research is advancing scientific and biomedical information important for human and animal health.