Accreditation group gives thumbs up to animal-care program

By Robert Sanders,Public Affairs


Helen Diggs, squirrel

Helen Diggs, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Care, oversees the care of Newton and 40,000 other animals. The office was accredited for its “excellent veterinary care.”
Jane Scherr photo

18 April 2001 | The campus’s animal care and use program has been accredited for another three years by the international organization that maintains the “gold standard” for the humane care of animals used in teaching and research.

Three representatives from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International, known as AAALAC, spent two days on campus last fall inspecting facilities, poring over records, and assessing the review and oversight process for all animal studies. They notified the campus last month that its accreditation had been extended for another three years, and commended its “excellent veterinary care” and “excellent core animal facilities and accommodations for unusual species.”

“This makes us feel proud of our institution, our animal care and the effort we have been putting into the program,” said veterinarian Helen Diggs, director of the campus’s Office of Laboratory Animal Care. “We have a program we can stand behind.”

In a letter to the campus, the accrediting group’s associate director and veterinarian Kathryn Bayne called the continued accreditation “a major achievement.… AAALAC accreditation is a symbol of quality and a way of demonstrating accountability for animal welfare.”

“In what must be unique for an academic institution of the size and complexity of UC Berkeley, for the third site visit in a row AAALAC was left with not even a single suggestion for improvement,” said Richard Van Sluyters, professor of optometry and chair of the campus’s Animal Care and Use Committee, which reviews all proposed uses of animals in research and teaching.

“Our students, faculty, staff, alumni and administration can be proud that UC Berkeley is a recognized leader in maintaining the highest standards of animal welfare.”

Berkeley has had the organization’s seal of approval since 1994, the year it first applied after a complete reorganization and consolidation of campus animal care.

“The campus went from being unaccredited 10 years ago to a status today where people want to visit to see how our system works and what a good animal care program looks like,” Diggs said.

She credits improved training for the “excellent” ratings. Educating researchers and her own staff about the value of maintaining the accreditation group’s standards, which are higher than the minimum required by federal law, and showing them just what accreditation means, was critical.

“Our administrators, investigators and staff are not content with a program that is just ‘good enough’ — they insist on us running a superlative program and being totally accountable,” she said. “Our program is so good because we have exceptional animal care staff who love what they do.”

Diggs’ office oversees about 40,000 animals on an average day. Fifty percent are mice and 40 percent are cold-blooded animals, such as amphibians, fish and reptiles. Nine percent are other rodents — rats, hamsters, guinea pigs and wild rodents — while the remaining one percent is comprised of rabbits, cats, non-human primates, coyotes, hyenas, birds and invertebrates, such as sea slugs.

For more than 35 years, the scientific community has voluntarily participated in the accreditation program. Accreditation is given to organizations and companies using animals in research, teaching or testing, and awards that exceed the minimum standards for the care and use of laboratory animals established in federal regulations and policy. More than 630 institutions around the world have received accreditation.

“Earning accreditation demonstrates an institution’s commitment to responsible animal care and use,” said John Miller, executive director of international association. “Accreditation is a symbol of quality, and assurance that when animals are used to advance medicine and scientific progress, their well-being is protected. At the same time, it enhances the overall quality of science and promotes the validity of research in which animals are used.”

“If the Office of Laboratory Animal Care and Animal Care and Use Committee are doing their jobs, there should be little or nothing for outside investigators to discover,” said Van Sluyters.


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