In recent years, the Department of Defense has been improving in its efforts to reduce and replace the use of animals in laboratory and field testing. Here are some of the major areas of progress:
- Investments made by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) from 2004 to 2009 have led to the development of new technologies that enable scientists to test vaccines and drugs in an artificial human immune system.
- In 2012, the National Institutes of Health and DARPA, with support from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), awarded Harvard’s Wyss Institute a grant to develop several organs-on-a-chip to study complex human physiology outside the body. This project, which could replace our current reliance on animal models of human diseases, holds great promise, including for personalized medicine and the development of cures for rare diseases.
- Just last year, the DoD’s assistant secretary of defense for health affairs issued a memo stating that the Pentagon will scale back its use of live animals in medical training starting January 1, 2015; instead, military health professionals will use simulators or other models in key areas of training and education.
These moves notwithstanding, the DoD’s turn from animal testing is far from complete, and there is a continuing moral and scientific imperative for the department to accelerate its effects to phase out animal testing. The DoD continues to cause pain and injury and death to animals in military exercises that range from combat trauma training conducted on live animals to the cruel testing of biodefense compounds, as well as carrying out a significant program of toxicity testing on animals. And the DoD could improve its reporting on animal use and suffering like many other federal agencies and grant recipients have.
Now, a new report from the National Academy of Science (NAS), and commissioned by the DoD, recommends a reduction (if nor replacement) in the use of laboratory animals for chemical testing. The DOD should implement these recommendations for the benefit of animals, taxpayers, and its personnel, because the shift to non-animal methods will result in better, safer, cheaper, and more rapid testing protocols and outcomes.
The DoD has concerns about potential chemical warfare and troops’ exposure to chemicals and the NAS report makes suggestions on how the DoD could address those needs without using animals. Right now, a battery of safety tests for one single chemical can take five or more years and can cost millions of dollars, not to mention thousands of animal lives. This report recommends that the DoD collaborate with federal agencies that have already made significant advances in chemical safety assessments using non-animal approaches, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and build upon those programs.
The report also encourages the DoD to develop new computer models and methods according to the specific needs of the agency, which is highly focused on issues relating to skin and inhalation exposure for American troops. Exposure to chemicals through inhalation is currently evaluated using “inhalation chamber” technology which requires stuffing a rat (or mouse) into closed cones. The animals are then forced to inhale the test chemical. Those tests induce great suffering. The new report encourages the DoD to develop non-animal methods and predictive tools. The DoD would have to identify the chemicals that are potentially the most harmful and focus on those, instead of running a battery of animal tests for all chemicals.
The HSUS is at the forefront of pushing for a reduction in animal testing and research, and we are pushing all government agencies in the United States (and globally via our affiliate Humane Society International) to end the era of poisoning and wounding animals, so we can move toward more sophisticated, innovative, and reliable testing methods in the 21st century. The DoD is not the only federal agency in our sights, but it’s one at which we hope to see continuing advances and commitments to animal-friendly approaches.