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Public Policy Report for 02/15/2002

AMENDMENT TO SENATE VERSION OF FARM BILL WOULD EXCLUDE RATS, MICE, AND BIRDS FROM ANIMAL WELFARE ACT - Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC) offered an amendment to the Farm Bill to exclude rats, mice, and birds from the Animal Welfare Act about 13 minutes before the deadline for amendments. The amendment was accepted by the Senate on a voice vote. As there is no analogous provision in the House version of the Farm Bill, this provision could be deleted during the conference committee process.

This is the latest chapter in the long-running battle by animal welfare activists to force the USDA to extend the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to rats, mice, and birds. Since the inception of the AWA, the USDA has taken the position that the AWA does not apply to birds, rats, and mice. In fact, these taxa were expressly exempted by the USDA regulations that implement the AWA.

An organization known as the Alternatives Research and Development Foundation, which is affiliated with the American Antivivisection Society, filed a petition with the USDA/Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)/Animal Care program, asking the USDA to amend the definition of "animal" in the AWA to eliminate the express exclusion of birds, rats, and mice. These same petitioners also filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court, trying to compel the USDA to change the AWA regulations to include birds, rats, and mice.

In October 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture settled this litigation. The settlement required the USDA to commence a formal rule-making action to develop standards of care for the rodents and birds used in research labs. A formal rule-making action means that all interested individuals and organizations will have an opportunity to comment.

However, the Agriculture Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2001 contained language that prohibited the USDA from using any appropriated funds to develop a proposed rule to re-define the term "animal" - meaning that at least for Fiscal Year 2001, the USDA couldn't take any action to implement the terms of the settlement. Biomedical organizations, such as the National Association for Biomedical Research, tried to persuade appropriators to extend this restriction in the FY02 appropriations bill. Although the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture included language to extend this restriction, the Senate did not do so, and in conference, the language was deleted from the final bill. Therefore, in late November 2001, the USDA announced that it would proceed to develop regulations. However, the agency was barred from finalizing any rules before 30 September 2002.

The amendment of the AWA to exclude these taxa may have little or no effect on most researchers and research facilities. The Public Health Service (PHS) Extension Act applies to all research activities involving all vertebrates. The National Science Foundation and other funders have adopted the PHS standards. Furthermore, under the PHS regulations, universities are required to give the National Institutes of Health (which administers those regulations) an "assurance" document that details the institutions' compliance with those regulations. Violation of the assurance can result in ineligibility for federal research funds. Whatever the reason, it has been the case that IACUCs have been reviewing all vertebrate research protocols for many years. In terms of facilities standards, the PHS assurance again pertains to all vertebrates, and further, at least 121 universities voluntarily obtain accreditation under the exacting standards of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC International), which covers all vertebrates.

CONGRESS EXPRESSES STRONG CONCERN ABOUT PROPOSED TRANSFERS OF SEA GRANT, USGS TOXICS RESEARCH PROGRAM TO NSF; SAYS PROPOSED R&D BUDGET IS UNBALANCED - At a AAAS-sponsored budget briefing, Bob Simon, Staff Director for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, made plain that the Committee's felt that the National Science Foundation is not a good fit for Sea Grant and the USGS toxics hydrology programs. House Science Committee Chair Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY), in that Committee's February 13 hearing on the administrations FY2003 R&D budget request, wasted no time in saying that the proposed transfers of these programs was "wrong-headed." The issue is likely to come up again at the House Science subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards hearing on Sea Grant. There is some doubt that the Sea Grant program can be transferred, given that the Sea Grant authorizing statutes expressly assign the program to NOAA. However, none of the Committee members questioned witnesses John Marburger, Science Advisor to President Bush, or NSF Director Rita Colwell about the proposed transfers.

Boehlert and other committee members also expressed concern about the imbalances in the R&D budget proposal. Boehlert said, "Even a casual glance at the budget makes clear what the R&D priorities are - biomedical research and the fight against terrorism at home and abroad. These are reasonable - even self-evident -- priorities and they deserve to be funded more generously than are other programs. That's what it means to be a budget priority.But I'm concerned that the proposed budget treats these items not just as priorities, but as panaceas. And that, I fear, is a mistake. I have long supported, and continue to support the doubling of the budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But the NIH alone cannot undergird our economic health or even improve human health. Yet the NIH budget is now larger than that of the rest of the civilian science agencies put together, and just the increase in the NIH budget is larger than the research budget of NSF." Other members of the committee, including Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) noted that NIH's considerable achievements have been built on basic research funded by NSF. Marburger responded by saying that the sizeable NIH increase is the final installment on a pledge to double NIH's 1998 budget by 2003, and implied that in coming years, the more generous increases would go to other agencies. In justifying the NSF increase, he also commented that complexity in living systems is far greater than in other systems. None of the Committee members asked why that view was not reflected in the proposed budgets for the NSF biology programs and the USGS.

In her statement to the Committee, Colwell promoted the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), saying that it will function as a biological early warning system to alert us to abrupt changes and long term trends in the environment.

CANADIAN RESEARCH FUNDING IMBALANCE? WHILE SCIENCE SEATS TURNOVER AND GOVERNMENT RELEASES LONG-AWAITED WHITE PAPER ON INNOVATION, PROMISING TO DOUBLE FEDERAL R&D SPENDING - According to a February 1 report in Science, a handful of Canadian research universities are getting the lion's share of the government research funding, and this situation is not sitting well with faculty members. The imbalance arose from the effort of the Canadian government to create one or more superior research institutions. Three programs - the $600 million Canada Research Chairs program, The Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), with an initial endowment of $520 million, and the newly restructured Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), whose budget has doubled in 3 years to $353 million - have led to the funding shifts, because the funds are awarded on a competitive basis using a formula that favors large institutions with a successful track record in attracting grants, whereas those with medical schools have a decided advantage in competing for CFI and CIHR awards. As a result, 10 Canadian institutions are reportedly receiving 2/3 of the government research funding. The issue was to have been examined during national consultations on Ottawa's long-overdue white paper on innovation. The consultations were delayed because Industry Minister Brian Tobin, unexpectedly resigned in December. Tobin's successor, Allan Rock, released the report on February 12. Billed as a blueprint to boost industrial productivity, scientific research, job skills and Canada's overall standard of living, the two strategy papers sponsored by Industry Minister Allan Rock and Human Resources Minister Jane Stewart omitted any estimate of how much it will cost. Specifics of the plan include:

-A reiteration of past pledges to double federal spending on research and development and lift Canada into the top five countries in the world on that score by 2010.

-A "world-class" scholarship program to attract high-powered students from abroad and keep Canadians at home.

-Financial incentives to Canadian graduate students, including an eventual doubling of federally funded scholarships and fellowships for master's and doctoral studies.

-Improved loans and subsidies for part-time students to help adults with continuing education and job retraining. But the government is backing away from previously promised tax-free savings accounts as a way to accomplish that goal.

However, Jim Turk of the Canadian Association of University Teachers told the Toronto Star that the plan wrongly places an emphasis on narrowly commercial research to the detriment of basic scientific study.

In another change in Canadian leadership, Maurizio Bevilacqua was named Secretary of State for Science, Research, and Development. First elected as a Member of Parliament in the 1988 election, Bevilacqua, who holds a B.A. from York University in Toronto, served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources Development and to the Minister of Labour. He has also been Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance and the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTIONS MADE TO AIBS PUBLIC POLICY OFFICE OPERATIONS - The Botanical Society of America, the Society of Protozoologists, and the Ornithological Council are the latest organizations to contribute funds to support AIBS Public Policy Office operations. The list of supporters is now as follows:

American Fisheries Society
American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists
American Society of Limnology and Oceanography
American Society of Mammalogists
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Biological Sciences Curriculum Study
Botanical Society of America
Estuarine Research Federation
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Ornithological Council
North American Lake Management Society
Society for Economic Botany
Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology
Society for the Study of Evolution
Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Society of Protozoologists
Society of Systematic Biologists
Society of Wetland Scientists

Additional contributions from other member societies and organizations are sought to help ensure the robustness of the funding stream for this position and for other AIBS public policy activities from one year to the next, which, with sufficient additional funding, can include additional public policy staff and/or intern positions. Contributions are made on a rolling 12-month cycle with a three-year commitment. All contributions to this initiative are ear-marked for public policy activities, some of which have a strong educational component. (NOTE: AIBS's activities in support of evolution education and research are jointly handled by the AIBS Public Policy Office and the AIBS Education Office.)

AIBS/ESA/AERC BIOTERRORISM ROUNDTABLE ON 22 FEBRUARY - AIBS is convening a roundtable on the topic of bioterrorism threats to natural and urban ecosystems: 22 February 2002, 12 noon - 3:00 p.m., Holeman Lounge, National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC. Co-sponsors are the Ecological Society of America and the Association of Ecosystem Research Centers. Panelists include Mark Wheelis, Section of Microbiology, University of California-Davis, Topic: "Ecological Aspects of Bioterrorism"; Terry Yates, Vice-Provost for Research, University of New Mexico, Deputy Director, National Center for the Study of Emerging Viruses, Topic: "How do we know if we are under attack?"; James Ehleringer, Dept. of Biology, University of Utah, Topic: "Forensic Ecology and Bioterrorism." Commentary by Mary E. Clutter, Assistant Director, Directorate for Biological Sciences, National Science Foundation, on the proposed National Ecological Observatory Network, and by Tom Weimer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science, U.S. Department of the Interior. Video tapes of the roundtable are available for $20 per two-tape set + S&H by contacting 202-628-1500 x 202;, who is also managing registration for the roundtable.

Additional bioterrorism-related AIBS roundtables being developed for later in 2002 include the ecology of infectious diseases and the evolution of resistance and virulence.


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