Animals used for laboratory research by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now have the opportunity to be adopted.
Eligible animals for adoption include dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and, in certain circumstances, some farm animals.
Under the updated policy, which was actually put into place in November, but was only officially announced last week, it states that healthy dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs and some farm animals are now permitted to be transferred to shelters and sanctuaries after they’ve been used for lab experiments.
Previous fate for animals used in laboratory research was euthanasia, once experiments had been completed - even if the animals were classified as healthy.
FDA spokesperson Monique Richards said in a statement to People: “The FDA has supported and continues to support the transfer, adoption of retirement” of animals that have completed trials and “meet applicable eligibility criteria."
The new measure allows for the "adoption, transfer and removal" of healthy animals to shelters and sanctuaries.
Richards added: "The November 2019 directive expressly sets out the eligibility criteria for adoption, retirement and transfer.”
She also emphasised that: “This is not a procedural change, but a newly approved internal standard guideline developed to provide general support for improving and promoting harmonisation of FDA's animal research activities."
The policy change comes after lawmakers recently introduced legislation that would protect animals that are used in federal research in the USA.
What remains somewhat unclear is who is actually allowed to adopt these retired laboratory animals, and whether they will be available to the general public.
The FDA uses animals to test drugs, vaccines and medical devices, according to its website. This practice is designed to determine the safety of a product before they are allowed to be tested in human trials.
According to the FDA, animal testing is necessary to determine various factors including how much of a drug is absorbed into the blood, how quickly the effects wear off or if there is a toxic impact on the body as a drug is broken down.
Critics say it’s time to ban the process of animal testing altogether. Animal testing remains an extremely controversial topic, both ethically and in terms of medical accuracy. Results of animal testing do not always translate effectively to correlate to human reaction to a particular drug or product. This means animal testing is not a method that can be blindly trusted.
In a similar way to the FDA, The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) previously enacted similar guidelines to help re-home lab animals.
Alternatives to animal testing are emerging, but it is likely to be some considerable time before this practice can be eliminated completely.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 792,000 animals were used in all federal animal tests during 2017. In 2018, 1,929 animals were used or bred specifically for FDA experiments, and at least 27% of them experienced some pain or distress, according to the agency's records.
The new changes in FDA policy guidelines demonstrates a small, but positive step in the right direction towards better treatment of animals, but campaigners emphasise more needs to be done.