US scientists say animal welfare regulations under consideration by Congress could strangle medical research with red tape, writes Stephen Phillips.
Plans to extend the US Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to rats, mice and birds would bring the US in line with the UK, where experiments on such species are subject to physical inspection.
Rodents and birds comprise 95 per cent of the laboratory animal population.
But many US scientists say existing legislation safeguards the welfare of such species and the cost of new regulations could be prohibitive.
Irving Weissman, professor of cancer biology at Stanford University, said:
"This would add another bureaucratic layer that could put us out of business."
Overheads could spiral by up to $280 million (£195 million) if new regulations were adopted, according to the National Association for Biomedical Research.
US universities must already meet stringent standards for the treatment of all animals used in publicly funded research.
But animal rights campaigners say further regulation is needed to cover privately funded research.
John McArdle of the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation said:
"It is the institutions that are out of the system who will and should experience change."
The law change has qualified support from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, which represents lab veterinarians. It has branded the exclusion of rodents from the AWA, "ethically indefensible".
But many US scientists view further regulation as a ploy by animal rights groups. Richard Traystman, a medical professor at Johns Hopkins University, said: "Animal rightists want to end the use of animals in research - period. Anything they can get short of this, they are happy to take."