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The Animal Welfare Act is the principal Federal statute governing the sale, handling, transport, and use of animals in research, testing, and teaching. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Animal Care implements the AWA through the Animal Welfare Regulations found in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 9, Chapter 1, Subchapter A, Parts 1, 2, and 3.

The AWA and its amendments establish guidelines for the proper care and treatment of animals used in research, and for the organization and operation of institutional animal care and use committees. The law requires that the guidelines address humane care; minimization of pain and distress; consideration of alternatives; appropriate use of tranquilizers; analgesics; anesthetics; paralytics; and euthanasia; appropriate pre-surgical and post-surgical veterinary medical and nursing care for animals; psychological well-being of primates; and exercise for dogs.

The requirements for reporting minority views of animal care committee members, for Animal Welfare Assurances, and for instruction or training in methods that limit the use of animals or limit animal distress, are all embodied in this Act. Compliance with the Animal Welfare Regulations, as applicable, is an absolute requirement of USAF policy.