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Animals Trapped by Budget Impasse?

What happens if and when the government shuts down?

The NIH Animal Center at Poolesville, Maryland

How will a government shutdown affect animals?

It’s been widely reported that national parks will be closed, just as they were in the 1995-96 shutdowns when 368 parks were closed. But the effect of that was minimal on animals, and more on local businesses who were badly hit by the absence of approximately 7 million fewer visitors.

Environmental protection is also halted during a government shutdown. The Washington Post reports that toxic waste cleanup work was affected during the last shutdown, when 609 sites reportedly stopped their cleanup projects, and 2,400 Superfund workers were furloughed.

But the most direct effect on animals is probably for those who are held in government-operated laboratories.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), roughly 10 percent of the $31 billion budget of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) goes to programs that are carried out at hundreds of labs and animal facilities. And while animal protection groups would like to see most of these programs come to an end, no one wants to see laboratory animals simply being left unattended.

As the NIH prepares to send in a skeleton staff to maintain animals and experiments at their labs, the AAAS reports that much of its planning is being carried out in secrecy. This is not so much because of the nature of the experiments, but because it’s considered a political no-no for the government to be seen to be planning for a shutdown. E-mails on the topic are therefore forbidden, and the plans are all put in place by word of mouth.

Also, NIH staff members who want to come in and check that the animals are OK will need special permission. That’s a big change from the last shutdown, where there was no such prohibition.

What do you say? Should government agencies like the National Institutes of Health be exempted by law from government shutdowns? Or on the other hand, do you take the point of view that government shouldn’t even be in the business of testing drugs and other products on animals? Let us know with a comment below or on Facebook.

What you can do: Not much, frankly! If the government shuts down, many of us will just be left waiting for it to open up again.