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Berkeleyan

Campus animal-care and -use program earns stamps of approval

| 20 October 2004

A veterinary inspector from the U.S. Department of Agriculture dropped by late last month for the USDA’s annual surprise inspection of the campus’s animal-care facilities and animal-use records — and for the fourth year in a row found everything shipshape.

“My congratulations go to the Office of Laboratory Animal Care for consistently maintaining a spotless record of animal care, and to the ACUC committee members and staff for their amazing work on behalf of the campus,” said Rick Van Sluyters, professor and associate dean of optometry and longtime chair of the Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC). “In my 25 years of experience with animal-care and -use programs across the country, I know of no other major research university with a record of achievement that even approaches Berkeley’s.”

The clean bill of health from the USDA comes on top of another thumbs-up earlier this year from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (AAALAC), a private nonprofit organization that accredits animal facilities every three years. AAALAC’s visit to campus a year ago resulted this past March in full accreditation with no suggestions for improvement. It was the association’s fourth positive evaluation of Berkeley’s facilities since 1994.

These plaudits for the campus’s animal- care and -use program come despite a 20-percent budget cut in recent years, necessitating a steep increase in the amount researchers must pay to house animals in campus animal facilities. But thanks to the strong culture of compliance on campus, researchers have accepted the cost as a necessity if animals are to be housed and used in research humanely.

“Our program works because it’s not just the veterinarians and animal-care staff who care about the welfare of these animals,” said Helen Diggs, director of the Office of Laboratory Animal Care. “It’s also the faculty, staff, and students — it’s a partnership. Researchers appreciate and understand the importance of keeping our house in order, and we make sure they’re part of any decisions we make that affect their research.”

Diggs and Van Sluyters also credit the campus’s record to several unique aspects of the Berkeley program. The campus administration, for one, treats animal care as a core resource, like the libraries, supporting 50 percent of its budget from general funds. The remainder comes directly from researchers, in contrast to many institutions, which charge researchers for any and all costs incurred in taking care of their research animals.

Another big component is training, which is required of every member of the faculty, staff, and student body who uses animals in research or teaching. The basic training and biosafety training are ongoing; in fact, the USDA veterinarian who visited last week walked in on one such training session being conducted by Diggs. He praised it highly, Van Sluyters said.

The USDA, which is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act regulations, each year sends a veterinary medical officer unannounced to research institutions that use animals to make sure these institutions are in compliance with the act’s very stringent regulations on the care and use of animals. On Sept. 20 and 21, the USDA veterinarian visited every campus facility housing animals covered by USDA regulations, and he spent the better part of a day poring over ACUC’s records.

The veterinarian’s official report was identical to the reports from the past three years: UC Berkeley is in full compliance with all federal animal-care and -use regulations.

The U.S. Public Health Service also reviews the campus annually for compliance with its policies and the National Research Council’s Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. It has the authority to suspend or terminate Public Health Service support, including grant funds from the National Institutes of Health, for research involving animals. The campus has had Public Health Service animal-welfare assurance since 1978, last issued in 2002 for another five-year period.