Indian scientists are calling for a major rewrite of a proposed animal welfare law that they say could undermine research involving animals. A government draft of the legislation is too vague and carries unreasonably harsh penalties, argued scientists attending a 15 September meeting about the plan at the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) in New Delhi.
The proposed Animal Welfare Act of 2011 aims to strengthen India's overall efforts to prevent animal cruelty and includes provisions covering research. The nation has about 5000 research institutions that carry out animal experiments, according to the Animal Welfare Board of India, a government agency that enforces animal treatment rules. It estimates that just 1700 are properly registered with the government, however, and that just 200 have "adequate" facilities for housing and caring for research animals. "Unregulated experimentation is rampant," says S. Chinny Krishna, a chemical engineer and vice chair of the board. "Animals are misused in India, even though many are revered as Gods."
Many researchers, however, say the draft proposal, which the government could send to Parliament later this year, goes too far. For example, its definition of an "animal" as "any living creature other than human being," is too vague, says INSA President Krishan Lal, a physicist. The definition does not make it clear, for example, whether it applies to microbes or animals not known to feel pain. Another provision says researchers should avoid experiments "on larger animals … when it is possible to achieve the same results by experiments upon smaller animals," without defining what constitutes large or small.