This article was originally written by Stefania Longo and published on Scientist.com.
It can be frightening when you realize that government entities may be cutting corners and hiding potential blunders from the public. It’s often easier to turn a blind eye when these mistakes don’t affect us personally, but there comes a point when we must recognize our duty to protect those who are being failed by governmental systems.
On April 5th, the Harvard Law School Animal Law and Policy Clinic filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for failing to conduct full annual inspections, which is required under the Animal Welfare Act. Instead, the USDA was found to be outsourcing an essential function to a third-party nonprofit organization, the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC), meaning that the USDA is only conducting partial inspections on facilities if they are already AAALAC accredited. The reasoning for this shift in responsibilities? According to Dan Robitzski at The Scientist, the USDA made this decision as an effort to ease the excessive workload of their inspectors.
Why is it problematic for the AAALAC to be conducting inspections instead of the USDA? Although the AAALAC claims to promote the humane treatment of laboratory animals through voluntary accreditation and assessment programs, their inspection visits are announced in advance, preventing them from capturing an organic snapshot of how the site operates. Furthermore, the AAALAC is not required to share their findings with the public; instead, they only communicate whether the site passed or failed the inspection. Are we already seeing the impact of this change in strategy in US facilities?