The past year has been a pivotal time for the animal welfare movement and a difficult one for scientists whose work involves experimental animals. Two major federal actions -- amendments to the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 and revisions of the Public Health Service's animal care guidelines -- tighten standards for the humane use of animals and emphasize that the main responsibility for proper animal care lies at the institutional level.

The National Institutes of Health also acted to withhold research money from two institutions -- the City of Hope Medical Center in Duarte, Calif., and the head trauma laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania -- in the aftermath of raids by the Animal Liberation Front. And . . . NIH suspended grants for research on vertebrates other than rodents at Columbia University.

Compliance with the new rules will unquestionably be costly, particularly when combined with the darkening fiscal picture created by Gramm-Rudman and the indirect costs crunch. They are also likely to lead to a reduction in animal use at least in some institutions.

. . . Although moderate animal welfare groups accept the need for animals in research, there is a growing wing of the movement, made up of old-line antivivisectionists and new "animal rights" groups, who see recent developments as only a step toward the real goal: total elimination of laboratory animals in research. . . .

It may be partly out of apprehension over future actions by these groups that the scientific community is rallying around to the new regulations. If scientists feel that the regulations are unduly intrusive, they are not saying so in public.