A storm is brewing over a proposed animal rights agreement that some researchers say will hamper their work. A prominent biomedical research group said this week it will go to court to prevent the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from reaching a settlement with animal rights groups that would dictate how researchers house and care for laboratory mice, rats, and birds.
Mice, rats, and birds--which make up the vast majority of lab animals--are now exempt from the USDA's Animal Welfare Act rules, which set caging and care practices. But in July the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, won a key preliminary ruling in its suit to overturn the exemption (Science, 21 July, p. 377). As a result, on 25 August the two parties asked a federal judge for a 30-day time-out to reach a deal to phase in regulation of the animals.
The National Association for Biomedical Research of Washington, D.C., however, "is absolutely opposed to these negotiations--it's an unacceptable way to make policy," says executive vice president Barbara Rich. The group, which represents more than 300 universities and hospitals, is worried that the new rules will impose burdensome requirements on researchers and that USDA doesn't have the budget to enforce them properly. USDA "is pandering to activists who oppose the use of lab animals," says Rich.