India Backs Off on Animal Regulations

NEW DELHI--Indian scientists are hailing a government decision to scale back a proposal for a centrally run system to regulate research involving animals. The final rules, adopted late last month, would instead place primary responsibility in the hands of animal ethics committees at individual universities and institutes, avoiding a bottleneck that scientists feared could stifle research. "I am satisfied that science will not suffer" once these rules are implemented, says Pradeep Kumar Dave, an orthopedic surgeon and director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences here.

The initial proposal, from a committee chaired by social justice and empowerment minister Maneka Gandhi, would have prohibited all animal experimentation without the explicit written approval of the committee (Science, 18 September, p. 1777). But her proposal kicked up a ruckus among the scientific community. Passions ran high: Immunologist Nirmal Kumar Ganguly, director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research here, warned of "chaos and confusion leading to anarchy" if the rules were implemented without amendments.

Under the final rules, institutional panels will have the authority to approve animal experiments for entire programs and projects rather than the experiment-by-experiment basis envisioned in the initial proposal. These panels will be staffed by biomedical scientists both from within the institution and outside, as well as a veterinarian, a nonscientist, and a government representative. Although the committees will be responsible for day-to-day monitoring of experiments, they must also report periodically to the ministry, which can suspend or revoke the license of any laboratory found wanting.

The final rules also remove a proposed ban on contract and collaborative research involving animals with overseas educational institutions, although they still prohibit contract research--such as the use of monkeys to test drugs for multinational drug companies--carried out purely for monetary considerations. The rules are expected to become law by the end of the month.