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July 17, 2014

Testing Our Humanity and Ingenuity on Animal Testing

Every year, 20 million animals – a number so big it's hard to wrap your mind around it – are used worldwide in chemical studies, causing immense suffering and pain. But this week the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued new, updated guidance for its 34 member countries – where most of these studies are performed – which could open up a different pathway forward, one that would spare millions of creatures a miserable fate.

Rabbits
New OECD guidance on chemical testing could spare millions of animals from a miserable fate. Photo: iStockphoto

One document released by the OECD helps toxicologists and regulators understand how to test for skin corrosion and irritation without using animals. Traditional skin corrosion and irritation studies using animals inflict a great deal of pain and suffering on large numbers of animals – usually one to three rabbits for each test. In Europe alone, a new regulatory program focused on gathering skin corrosion and irritation information on approximately 40,000 chemicals would translate into the use of 120,000 animals under the typical animal testing protocol. This OECD document could help prompt the use of non-animal tests to satisfy these and other testing requirements.

Another document recently made public recommends new methods that use cultured cells and tissues instead of live animals to test potential hormone (endocrine) disrupting chemicals. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s current screening program includes five of 11 tests that use animals. In the first phase of this program, the screening of just 47 chemicals killed 27,000 animals. Many other countries around the world may require endocrine testing, with the potential for millions of animals to be killed if  traditional animal tests alone are used. This OECD recommendation too could have a dramatic positive impact.

These changes are not coming out of the blue. They are the result of our longtime efforts, mainly by scientists of our staff, to embed our concerns within the relevant science-based institutions and policy-making networks. In fact, The HSUS was instrumental in getting a seat at the table at the OECD back in 2002 and served as the first lead of the International Council on Animal Protection in OECD Programmes (ICAPO). ICAPO experts advise the OECD on the use of non-animal alternative test methods in chemical testing programs. In the European Union, the OECD establishes chemical testing guidelines that are used by industries in the member countries to develop and market new chemicals. OECD policies ultimately have a global impact, so ICAPO’s participation is critical.

We are committed to replacing the use of animals in chemical testing with faster, better, more humane science - science based on current understanding of human biology and incorporating modern technologies to provide better information for protecting humans and the environment.

You can learn more about this work at our new web site, HumanToxicologyProject.org. If you’re interested in learning more about non-animal alternative methods in toxicology, read the Toxicity Testing Overview on the AltTox.org website – a project co-sponsored by The HSUS. For more information about non-animal testing in general, visit the HSUS' Alternatives to Animal Tests page.

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