Washington Update

Funding Bill Contains Animal Research Provisions

By: Naomi Charalambakis
Wednesday, January 13, 2021

On December 22, Congress passed its trillion-dollar omnibus spending package for fiscal year 2021. The “Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021” and accompanying explanatory statements represent months of negotiations between House and Senate Appropriations Committees on various federally funded programs, including biomedical research with animals.

Division J of the omnibus bill largely reflected draft appropriations language released earlier this year by the Senate Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which will prohibit federal funding for canine, feline, and nonhuman primate research conducted at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) unless approved by the VA Secretary in writing. Projects must also fulfill specific criteria, including consensus that scientific objectives of the research can only be met using the specific desired species. While the final compromise language did not categorically ban federal funds for this research as proposed by the House, the omnibus does require the VA Secretary to submit a report outlining the agency’s plans to eliminate or reduce research with canines, felines, and nonhuman primates over the next five years to Congress by the end of the calendar years. Language in the explanatory statement also directs VA to outline the agency’s efforts to address the recommendations issued by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) Institute for Laboratory Animal Research last summer.

Although the Division H explanatory statement recognized the value nonhuman primate research imparts to vaccine developments and treatments for public health threats, the agreement language also addressed the importance of considering non-animal alternative techniques. Thus, to facilitate their consideration, the final language directs NIH to commission an independent NASEM study to explore the current and future use of nonhuman primates at NIH. The explanatory statement also encouraged analysis of primate availability and transportation options as part of the study. The latter issue represents an ongoing dispute between the research community and several airline companies that recently ceased transport of animals for research purposes, jeopardizing the number of available resources vital to advancing scientific progress.

Whereas the House and Senate draft appropriations prominently differed on retired chimpanzee maintenance and relocation, the agreement language solely directed NIH to provide a written report to Congress that outlines the number of chimpanzees located at federal primate facilities and total number of chimpanzee transports and deaths.

The Division H explanatory statement also highlighted the importance of large animal models, specifically pigs, in supporting the application of basic research to humans, comparable with the Senate’s proposed language a few months ago. In fact, the agreement language encourages NIH to elevate the pig to model organism status, a term describing species that enable scientists to study a broad range of biological processes and diseases.

For additional information on the spending package text, a division-by-division summary of the appropriations provisions is available here.