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AG Nessel: State Must Increase Oversight to Ensure Humane Animal Treatment in Medical Research

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel released a new formal opinion today that will protect dogs and other animals used in medical research. 

Rep. Matt Koleszar submitted a request asking for “an opinion from your office to enforce a long-neglected law regarding the use of animals in experimentation. Despite having authority to regulate the use of animals in experiments for more than 40 years, the state has ignored its statutory mandate to oversee animal research facilities.” 

More than 40 years ago, the Legislature passed a law calling for the creation of  standards for the humane treatment of animals used in medical research. The law also required research facilities to comply with those rules or lose the ability to operate. 

But such standards were never implemented. In the decades since, researchers have continued to conduct animal experiments without any state regulation of how the animals are treated. 

Nessel's opinion notes that, “to be consistent with the clearly stated legislative intent, [the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services] must register only those entities that meet the standards. And because the standards must provide for the humane treatment of animals, only those entities that use animals in a humane manner will be allowed to register. It is my opinion, therefore, that DHHS is obligated to register entities that keep or use animals for experimental purposes and must restrict registration to only those entities that conduct animal research in a humane manner as reflected in “standards” that DHHS must establish. This conclusion comes with two caveats. First, certain federal laws, regulations and standards also apply to entities that conduct animal research... Therefore, DHHS should take care to draft the Michigan standards in a manner that avoids preemption. Second, this opinion should not be read to mandate that all currently ongoing animal research in Michigan must cease unless and until the laboratories are registered by DHHS. That result finds no support in the statute as the statutory language does not create the standards and is not otherwise self-executing. Rather, the Legislature predicated the prohibition on unregistered experimentation on the existence of a registration process under MCL 333.2676. Ultimately, the most appropriate manner in which to develop the required standards and implement the required registration is a matter left to DHHS.” 

A video from AG Nessel discussing the opinion is now available on the Department’s YouTube page