In an extraordinary reversal, a conservative D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals panel has ruled that animal-rights groups must have access when the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) writes "the bible of lab-animal care."
The NAS manual on handling animals in laboratory research is mandatory for all research financed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and is used for reference worldwide.
Valerie Stanley, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), which brought the case, yesterday said the decision is a crack in the door to expose research practices to public examination, but not much more.
"The likelihood that animals are not going to be used in research as a result of this decision is far-fetched," she said, characterizing the NAS manual as the industry bible. "It's going to air the issues. It's going to let the sun shine in."
NAS spokeswoman Susan Turner-Lowe said the 133-year-old science group hasn't decided whether to appeal. She defended the value of secrecy she said has been the NAS rule since 1916.
"It is an attempt to get at the scientific basis of a problem without undue influence, to conduct deliberative processes in a careful and privileged manner," Mrs. Turner-Lowe said.
While the activists' courtroom victory over Donna E. Shalala, secretary of health and human services, and the NAS appears to assure future access by opponents of animal testing, it came a bit late for their stated objective.
ALDF had sought to block publication of the seventh edition of the "Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals," but it came out a year ago, while the group was on the losing end of lower court decisions.
The unanimous opinion written by Circuit Judge Laurence H. Silberman ordered District Judge Gladys Kessler to decide whether to enjoin NAS and its National Research Council from acting behind closed doors and which documents must be disclosed. …