Last year, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) gave lift to the quest to end the use of animals in testing for the potential human health hazards of chemicals, drugs, and consumer products. In its report, “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century, A Vision and a Strategy,” the NAS laid out a long-term proposal for shifting largely, if not entirely, to non-animal testing methods. The new approach, based on the deliberations of an expert committee (including HSUS staff member Martin Stephens, Ph.D.), relies on modern advances in biology and technology and emphasizes human—rather than animal—biology. Some experts believe the proposed research and development could be completed within a decade, though funding from Congress and industry will be needed to advance this objective.
Yesterday The HSUS and the Procter & Gamble Company, our partner in pursuing alternative testing methods, honored several scientists associated with the paradigm shift championed by the NAS. We bestowed two North American Alternatives Awards of $25,000 each, funded by Procter & Gamble, for outstanding scientific contributions to the advancement of alternatives to animal testing.
Award recipient Melvin Andersen, Ph.D., of the Hamner Institute in Research Triangle Park, N.C., was a key author of the 2007 NAS report. He’s a tireless promoter of its vision and a researcher with promising ideas on translating that vision into reality.
The other award will support the federal government’s fledgling “Tox21” program, which carries out automated, robotic, high-volume testing of chemicals. Under the leadership of Christopher Austin, M.D., of the National Human Genome Research Institute, Robert Kavlock, Ph.D., of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Raymond Tice, Ph.D., of the National Toxicology Program, Tox21 will be used to develop toxicity “signatures” for chemicals, information likely to substitute for animal testing in the future.
The issue at hand has come a long way since animals first began to be used in routine testing decades ago. Such testing was one of the early targets of the emerging animal protection movement in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Largely as a result of such advocacy, toxicity testing emerged as the primary field for applying the “Three Rs” of replacing, reducing, and refining the use of animals.
The drive for alternatives to animal testing made slow progress during the 1980s and early 1990s but, in the last 15 years, it appears that animal use in toxicity testing has started to fall in a meaningful way. In Great Britain, which has reasonably accurate laboratory animal use numbers, the number of animals used in toxicity testing has fallen 75 percent since 1995. In recent years, advocacy efforts have mostly switched to engagement, as The HSUS and other animal protection organizations seek to end animal testing altogether by working with progressive corporations, regulatory agencies, alternatives centers, and intergovernmental standards-setting organizations.
We are proud to partner with Procter & Gamble for the third consecutive year in bestowing the North American Alternatives Awards. It is a symbol of our common commitment to eliminate animal testing for consumer product safety, while ensuring that marketed products are safe for consumers and the environment. Procter & Gamble has been criticized for its animal testing over the years, but when companies step up and contribute to the solution, they need to be recognized and animal advocacy groups should be prepared to acknowledge that work and shift. We are a movement that must embrace change, and not have a static view about individuals or institutions.
We congratulate Anderson, Austin, Kavlock, and Tice for their stalwart dedication to implementing the NAS’s long-term vision that will lead to a goal we all share—ending animal testing.
Postscript: It was exciting to learn last night that President-elect Barack Obama intends to appoint Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., a distinguished marine ecologist, as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. It’s a critical position within the Department of Commerce, with major responsibility for the health of oceans and ocean life, and for the enforcement of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Lubchenco, like the Procter & Gamble honorees, exemplifies the creativity, innovation, and engagement with the public interest that we so prize in the American scientific community.