How Does This Man Sleep at Night?

The Rise for Animals Team, September 27, 2023

Starting next month, Dr. Gary L. Borkowski – a former animal researcher with leadership ties to one of the premiere pro-vivisection propaganda groups – will take up the role of CEO for the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International (“AAALAC International” or “AAALAC”). 

AAALAC has been and remains one of the most central players in the animal research industry, though you may well never have heard of it.

AAALAC was created to shield the animal research industry from outside regulation.

AAALAC was founded in 1965 as the animal research industry’s “last desperate attempt to avoid” the passage of the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act (the precursor to the modern Animal Welfare Act, the only federal law that places any regulations on animal experimentation). More specifically, AAALAC was brought into existence by the National Society for Medical Research (“NSMR”) and the American Medical Association (“AMA”), and it was presented to Congress as an industry-supported, self-regulatory alternative to the passage of any federal regulations concerning the welfare of animals in labs.

★ NSMR: predecessor of the National Association for Biomedical Research (“NABR”) that was established by researchers to insure their “freedom . . . to use laboratory animals….” and to “counter antivivisectionist activists”.

★ AMA: a professional association and lobbying group for doctors that has actively and aggressively opposed anti-vivisection efforts since the 19th century.

Fortunately, Congress recognized the sham that had been hoisted upon it and rejected the animal research industry’s proposal that AAALAC oversee industry compliance with the Animal Welfare Act – indeed, Congress asserted that AAALAC oversight would serve only to repeat the “shocking failures of self-policing” that had motivated enactment of animal welfare legislation in the first place and would be akin to “setting a fox to watch the chicken coop”.

Though it proved unable to stop its enactment, AAALAC succeeded in circumventing the Animal Welfare Act on behalf of its industry.

After the Animal Welfare Act’s passage, AAALAC shifted its focus from the legislative to the executive branch of our government and managed to capture the USDA (the federal agency charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act at registered animal research facilities). 

In 2018, the USDA formally proposed a partnership with AAALAC, but public outcry followed, and the USDA pulled back . . . but only into the shadows.

Beginning (at least officially) in 2019, the USDA acted in secret to imbue AAALAC with the power previously – and expressly! – denied it by Congress and objected to by the public at large. 

Essentially, when it comes to animal research facilities, the USDA is allowing AAALAC accreditation to stand in place of government regulation. To be sure, the USDA has explicitly prohibited its inspectors from conducting full (i.e., routine) inspections of any research facilities that claim AAALAC accreditation (though the USDA does not allow its inspectors to request proof thereof). Instead, USDA inspectors of self-proclaimed AAALAC-accredited facilities may only perform “focused” inspections, meaning that they may review only a sampling of either a laboratory’s facilities, records, or other-than-human research subjects.

Further, unlike the USDA’s charge (pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act) to have government officials perform mandatory, unannounced, annual inspections in regulation of research facilities, AAALAC relies on ad hoc consultants (“peers based at other research institutions”) to complete voluntary, prescheduled, triennial “visits” in partnership with research facilities. 

Oh yeah, and AAALAC is funded directly by those it accredits, including  “the top 100 U.S. [NIH] awardees and about 90% of the next 100 NIH awardees”, “all major U.S. pharmaceutical companies and the commercial laboratories that breed animals for research”, and “government laboratories, biotechnology companies and contract research organizations”.

The result has been and remains more animal suffering in U.S. research facilities. 

The animal research industry pushed for the USDA’s deferment to AAALAC on the basis of the implicit (and entirely unfounded) assertion that “AAALAC accreditation is an indicator that the institution is more likely to be in compliance with the AWA–hence, no need for routine, thorough inspections.” Unfortunately, far from the “‘gold standard’ of commitment” to animal well-being that AAALAC claims its accreditations reflect, AAALAC-accredited research facilities fail to satisfy the minimal standards of care for their other-than-human animals “significantly more” often than those not accredited by AAALAC meaning that AAALAC accreditation is an indicator of worse (not better) animal welfare.

True to form, AAALAC’s new CEO has spent his entire career promoting and profiting from animal experimentation.

Dr. Borkowski has an extensive history in animal research and pro-vivisection advocacy: he has been a “senior research advisor” for Eli Lilly and Co., president of the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners  (“ASLAP”), president of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (“ACLAM”), and long-time head of AAALAC’s “accreditation program”; and he is president-elect of the International Association of Colleges of Laboratory Animal Medicine (“IACLAM”) and a Board member of the National Association of Biomedical Research (“NABR”).

★ ASLAP: a politically engaged non-profit corporation that represents laboratory animal veterinarians and “promotes laboratory animal science”.

★ ACLAM: a specialty board recognized by the American Veterinary medical Association “as the certifying organization for laboratory animal medicine”.

★ IACLAM: an “association of . . . Colleges of laboratory animal medicine”.

NABR: a politically engaged non-profit “formed to combat the animal rights movement and promote animal research” and composed of hundreds of universities, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, and academic and professional associations.

Welcome to the helm of collusion, corruption, and illegality, Dr. Borkowski – we’ll be seeing your government cronies in court.

The USDA’s arrangement with AAALAC is not only unethical (as is the entire industry they’re protecting/representing) – it’s also illegal, and we’re taking action: Rise for Animals – together with the Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic and the Animal Legal Defense Fund – is suing the USDA for ceding regulatory power to the animal research industry itself vis-a-vis AAALAC. 

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