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Last week, members of our staff were in Rome for the Seventh World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, and by all accounts, it was an exciting event.
Held every two years, the international conference left attendees with the sense that a pathway is opening up to phase out the use of animal testing.
We have a long-standing involvement in the Congress, and I’ve asked Troy Seidle, director of Research and Toxicology for Humane Society International, to share a report on this year’s happenings.
The use of animals in experimentation has proven to be among the most intractable issues faced by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International (HSI), and Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF). Progress depends largely on developing superior non-animal methods to animal-based procedures—no matter how inhumane or irrelevant such animal testing may seem—and then ensuring that the new methods are used. Developing new methods for the safety testing of chemicals and consumer products typically faces two additional hurdles: formally demonstrating their effectiveness (“validation”) and gaining their acceptance by regulatory authorities.
An important barometer of progress in this arena is the World Congresses on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, which bring together the best and brightest alternatives advocates and scientists from academic, corporate, governmental, non-profit, and other sectors. The 7th World Congress was held last week in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the modern movement to reduce, refine, and ultimately replace experiments on animals, with more than 850 delegates from across the globe.
Since the inception of the World Congresses in 1993, The HSUS has helped to sponsor and organize these conferences, participate in their program, and use the opportunity to bestow our Russell & Burch Award for outstanding achievement in advancing alternative methods.
A recurring theme of this year’s World Congress was the 2007 call by the U.S. National Research Council (NRC) for the science of safety testing to be given a major face-lift. It is increasingly recognized that World War II-era animal poisoning tests, in addition to being inhumane, are too expensive and time-consuming to meet emerging regulatory mandates, such as the requirement in Europe (and likely soon in the U.S. as well) to reassess the safety of tens of thousands of widely used chemicals. The vision of “21st century” safety testing proposed by the NRC would see animal tests replaced by robot-automated cellular tests and sophisticated computer models.
Support for 21st century safety testing was evident throughout the 4-day conference. An HSUS-led resolution inspired by the NRC vision was endorsed by conferees from more than two-dozen countries. The framers of the NRC vision—including The HSUS' vice president of Animal Research Issues, Martin Stephens, Ph.D.—were presented with two awards at the conference.
Moreover, high-level officials from North American, European and Asian governments and corporations gave talks demonstrating an unprecedented level of interest, and investment, in moving away from animal testing. For instance, the European Commission and European Cosmetics Association announced the launch of a more than $73 million-joint initiative to fund research to replace long-term testing on animals—the single largest such funding program created to date.
The European Commission has also committed to fund a three-year HSI-driven initiative called “AXLR8”, which aims to lay the groundwork in Europe for a move to an animal-free approach to safety testing. At the same time, major consumer product, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies have joined with The HSUS/HSI/HSLF in a consortium to promote similar work in the U.S.
These are exciting times for those wishing to relegate animal testing to the history books. The challenges include ensuring that the modern vision of animal-free safety testing is realized sooner rather than later, and that similar approaches are developed for the larger field of animal use in biomedical research.