The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) turns 50 on January 30, 2018, a fitting time to reflect on its history and celebrate its milestones. From its modest beginnings, the CCAC has evolved to become a strong national organization, drawing on the expertise and commitment of thousands of volunteers – scientists, veterinarians, animal welfare experts, members of the public, and countless others – to ensure the highest standards of animal ethics and care in Canadian science.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Canadian research, particularly in the field of biomedical sciences, experienced a period of unparalleled growth. This, coupled with increasing recognition that the humane treatment of research animals led to better, more responsible science, resulted in increased demand from both the Canadian public and scientists for mechanisms to ensure that research animals were treated humanely.
In 1963, the Medical Research Council (MRC) proposed that the National Research Council (NRC) set up a committee to study the conditions of experimental animals in Canadian science. The NRC would also provide recommendations (where necessary) for improvements in the areas of procurement and production of experimental animals, laboratory animal facilities, and control over experiments involving animals.
The NRC appointed a blue-ribbon committee, the Special Committee on the Care of Experimental Animals, which spent the next two years consulting with animal welfare organizations, federal government departments, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (now Universities Canada), and medical colleges. It also reviewed briefs submitted to the Departments of Justice and National Health and Welfare, and consulted the Attorneys-General of all provinces regarding relevant legislation.
The NRC Report of the Special Committee on the Care of Experimental Animals was released in June 1966 and recognized that legislation governing the inspection of facilities used for teaching and research should be a matter for provincial jurisdiction, and recommended a national, peer-based voluntary approach rather than legislated periodic visits by government inspectors. It also recommended rigorous control of the scientific merit of animal-based research by the federal granting agencies, and the establishment of local, peer-based institutional animal care committees by all institutions using experimental animals.
Finally, it made the seminal recommendation that "an outside advisory body, a Canadian Council on Animal Care, be established to ensure uniform application of guiding principles at the national level, and to assist local ACCs in the effective implementation of these principles for the procurement, facilities, care, and use of laboratory animals". It proposed that the CCAC be established under the auspices of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, and that representatives from eleven organizations form the founding membership of the Council.
Universities Canada commissioned Dr. Harry C. Rowsell, by then an established name in the field of animal welfare, to lead a feasibility study wherein he consulted thirty-nine universities and colleges across Canada and all ten provincial Departments of Agriculture. The results of his study demonstrated that the universities and provincial departments of government all supported the establishment of a CCAC, and that the scientific community in Canada supported the recommendations made in the NRC's report.
When the CCAC was created in 1968 according to his recommendations, Dr. Rowsell was appointed as its first executive director.
An important element of Dr. Rowsell's 1967 report was the emphasis on ensuring quality assessments. He recommended assessments be performed by "a panel of referees with considerable and varied research experience, who should also possess moral integrity, be endowed with tact, firmness, and common sense developed through experience and concern for animal welfare". The report also introduced the idea of an accreditation certificate in experimental animal care, implemented years later in 1998 with the creation of the CCAC Certificate of GAP – Good Animal Practice®.
At its first meeting in January 1968, the CCAC established both an Assessment Panel, responsible for assessing facilities and procedures at research institutions, and an Animal Care Resources Panel, responsible for advising the Council on publications, the establishment of new programs, and the review of existing programs.
By year's end, the CCAC published a fifty-page guide titled Care of Experimental Animals – A Guide for Canada, the precursor of volumes 1 and 2 of the CCAC Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals. The CCAC has since gone on to publish dozens of guidelines documents, building on the foundation of those original guides while also including the Three Rs, the internationally accepted model of animal ethics and care. These principles are the heart of the CCAC's standards and encourage individuals to practice the tenets of replacement, reduction, and refinement.
Since the publication of Dr. Rowsell's report over 50 years ago, the CCAC has established itself as a leader in quality assurance for ethical, animal-based research. Our community has grown to include nearly 200 animal care committees and more than 2,000 volunteers across the country, all dedicated to ensuring the highest standards of ethics and care in Canadian animal science. It is thanks to these dedicated individuals, both past and present, that Canada remains a leader on the world stage, and that the CCAC can continue to raise the bar for ethical standards in animal-based science.