What is the difference between animal rights and animal welfare?

Researchers need animal models to provide the consumer products expected by the public and they are very strong advocates for animal welfare. Working with animals for this purpose is a privilege. Researchers and the laboratory animal science professionals who care for their animals daily are grateful for their contributions to human and animal well-being. They believe that their animals deserve respect and the best possible care. Researchers also recognize that animals that are well cared for, provided food, shelter, environmental enrichment and, when necessary, veterinary care, provide better results than animals that are diseased or mistreated. 

Animal rights groups believe that animals are entitled to the same rights as people and that they must be included in the same system of morals applied to humans. These activists wish to eliminate all animals needed—not only for research, but for food and as pets. In recent years, some groups have resorted to threats and even violence to try to disrupt important research. Laboratories have been broken into, animals stolen, and scientific equipment and years’ worth of important research data destroyed

Animal rights groups have attempted to distort the facts about animal research. They refuse to acknowledge the important contribution of this research and argue that no research working with animals is justified. They claim that the medical community no longer supports working with animals in research. Nothing could be further from the truth. The American Medical Association has several current policies that strongly emphasize its support for the humane need of animals in biomedical research in all institutions and research facilities (American Medical Association).

Animal rights groups grossly exaggerate the number of animals worked with in research. They claim the majority of research animals are primates and stolen pets. Yet, as previously stated, 90 percent or more of the animals in research each year are mice, rats and other rodents.; cats, dogs, and other animals such as hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, primates, and farm animals collectively make up the small remaining percentage of animals. This concern for our pets is being focused in the wrong direction. Millions of pets end up in animal shelters; according to the Humane Society of the United States, an estimated 3–4 million of these dogs and cats are killed each year because they are senselessly abandoned by their owners (The Humane Society of the United States).

Animal rights groups attempt to portray researchers as “mad scientists” who work with no supervision or control. But stringent controls are in place by the federal government through the Animal Welfare Act and its amendments, in place since 1966. Research laboratories where animals are worked with must meet strict federal, state and local requirements. Federal regulators routinely inspect laboratories to ensure that animals are adequately housed and cared for. In addition, many laboratories submit to additional voluntary inspection for accreditation through the Association for the Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care, International (AAALAC).

It is essential that more people become involved in this debate because the health of the entire nation, even the world, will be affected by its outcome. We hope that you will encourage others to become informed about the vital issue of working with animals in biomedical research. As you begin to understand the facts more fully, you will agree that the judicious work with animals in research offers the greatest hope of improving the lives of both humans and animals.

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