Criminal liability for laboratory cruelty—model law
It is the intent of the legislature that each animal in the State be protected from intentional cruelty, including animals that are:
(1) privately owned;
(5) farm animals;
(6) corporately or institutionally owned; or
(7) used in privately, locally, State, or federally funded scientific or medical activities.
Sec. 1 Investigation of complaints of animal cruelty
(a) Upon receiving a complaint of suspected animal cruelty or aggravated animal cruelty, a Department Investigator, any law enforcement official, or an approved humane investigator may, for the purpose of investigating the allegations of the complaint, enter during normal business hours upon any premises where the animal or animals described in the complaint are housed or kept, provided such entry shall not be made into any building which is a person’s residence, except by search warrant or court order. Institutions operating under state or federal license to conduct laboratory experimentation utilizing animals for research or medical purposes are exempt from the provisions of this Section except when knowingly operating outside provisions governing the treatment of animals of a research or maintenance protocol approved by the institutional animal care and use committee of the facility.
(b) Upon receiving a complaint of suspected animal torture, a Department Investigator, any law enforcement official, or an approved humane investigator may, for the purpose of investigating the allegations of the complaint, enter during normal business hours upon any premises where the animal or animals described in the complaint are housed or kept, provided such entry shall not be made into any building which is a person’s residence, except by search warrant or court order. Institutions operating under state or federal license to conduct laboratory experimentation utilizing animals for research or medical purposes are not exempt from the provisions of this Section regarding animal torture.
Sec. 2. Defenses
(a) It is not a defense to violations of this Act for the person committing the violation to assert that he or she had rights of ownership in the animal that was the victim of the violation.
(b) It is not a defense to animal cruelty or aggravated cruelty under this section that the conduct occurred at a research facility or medical laboratory where the conduct was knowingly operating outside provisions, governing the treatment of animals, of a research or maintenance protocol approved by the institutional animal care and use committee of the facility.
(c) It is not a defense to animal torture under this section that the conduct occurred at a research facility or medical laboratory
Historically, laboratory research, agricultural practices and hunting have been specifically exempt from animal cruelty provisions in state and local laws. There have been even further exemptions given for animal trainers, veterinarians, protection of property and self, and others. But the exemption for laboratory research has been fairly comprehensive, frustrating efforts to punish animal abuse within laboratory settings even when the animals were being harmed outside of any research protocol.
New Mexico is the only state to specifically adopt language that is intended to punish criminal animal abuse in research facilities. This change was made in 2001. The relevant provision reads:
The provisions of this section [30-18-1. Cruelty to animals*] do not apply to:
"(6) research facilities licensed pursuant to the provisions of 7 USC Section 2136, except when knowingly operating outside provisions, governing the treatment of animals, of a research or maintenance protocol approved by the institutional animal care and use committee of the facility"
Virginia—and several other states—have language in their animal cruelty statutes that does not exempt federally-licensed research facilities, but does exempt conduct that is part of a bona fide scientific or medical experiment. The statute reads:
§ 3.1-796.122. Cruelty to animals; penalty.
"A. Any person who (i) overrides, overdrives, overloads, tortures, ill-treats, abandons, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation…shall be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
B. Any person who (i) tortures, willfully inflicts inhumane injury or pain not connected with bona fide scientific or medical experimentation,***(iii) instigates, engages in, or in any way furthers any act of cruelty to any animal set forth in clause (i);*** shall be guilty of a Class 6 felony if the current violation or any previous violation of this subsection or subsection A resulted in the death of an animal or the euthanasia of an animal based on the recommendation of a licensed veterinarian upon determination that such euthanasia was necessary due to the condition of the animal, and such condition was a direct result of a violation of this subsection or subsection A.”
The test is whether “connected with bona fide scientific or medical experiment” includes the treatment of animals within a laboratory while they are not actively participating in an experiment or protocol. And whether the treatment of animals—even while on a protocol—is subject to anti-cruelty laws where the treatment is outside of the design of the protocol.
Some states already have language that may hold a research institution accountable if it engages in conduct that is: outside “the scope of accepted practices and disciplines associated with the institution or research facility,” (Iowa, Sec. 717B.2); is not “for bona fide animal research activities of institutions of higher education” (Kentucky, Sec. 525.130); if the research is NOT “conducted in accordance with protocols approved by an animal care and use committee, as required under the federal Animal Welfare Act or the federal Health Research Extension Act.” (Maryland, Sec. 10-603); or if the mistreatment is independent of “bona fide experiments carried on for scientific research or normal and accepted veterinary practices (Wisconsin, Sec. 951.02).
On a side note, Maryland has a separate provision of law, Sec. 10-602, which specifies that the legislative intent of the animal cruelty laws includes the protection of animals “used in privately, locally, State or federally funded scientific or medical activities.” This would give added weight to any charges brought in this state.
At least two states also allow an affirmative defense against animal cruelty charges that the individual was engaged in “bona fide experimentation for scientific research (Tennessee, Sec. 39-14-202), or “ was a scientist whose conduct was a part of scientific research governed by accepted procedural standards subject to review by an institutional care and use committee.” (Vermont, Sec. 352b.)
Most recently, Wisconsin passed a law that gives carte blanche to researchers in their treatment of animals by exempting animals in research from criminal liability for how they treat them. This comes in response to two lawsuits brought against researchers at the University of Wisconsin for conducting protocols that directly violate anti-cruelty provisions. The measure was passed in a budget bill and was signed by the Governor on June 26, 2011. Researchers may still be liable under federal law if they violate the protocol of their research institution.
Section 951.015 (3) of the Wisconsin statutes now includes in its exemption to the Crimes Against Animals section:
"(a) Teaching, research, or experimentation conducted pursuant to a protocol or procedure approved by an educational or research institution, and related incidental animal care activities, at facilities that are regulated under 7 U.S.C. §2131 to §2159 or 42 U.S.C. §289d;
(b) Bona fide scientific research involving species unregulated by federal law."
Whether they are being beaten in a person’s home or thrown against a laboratory wall, abuse to animals is indefensible and state animal cruelty laws need to provide the protection needed for this abuse.