Before manufacturers can sell pesticides in the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency must evaluate their safety to protect human health and the environment. As part of this process, the EPA currently requires pesticide manufacturers to perform dozens of tests on rabbits, rats, mice, and guinea pigs, including six tests – called the toxicity “six-pack” — to measure the potential for a pesticide to cause harm. The tests result in agony and death for thousands of animals each year.
Following negotiations with The HSUS and other stakeholders, EPA announced a plan last month to phase out at least some of these obsolete animal testing practices in favor of alternatives that can provide the same information, sometimes more effectively, without using animals. This offers the prospect of saving the lives of the animals who are subjected to skin and eye irritation, force-feeding and inhalation of chemicals, and intentional lethal poisoning. The EPA’s new plan is part of a larger move by the agency to embrace more modern technology that is humane, cost-effective, and better at predicting pesticide reactions.
The “six-pack” tests are inhumane and possibly the most painful battery of animal tests ever conceived. The first three tests expose animals to a mega-dose of a pesticide via force-feeding, forced inhalation, and absorption through their skin to determine the dose that will kill 50 percent. It is common for the animals in these tests to endure convulsions, bleeding from the mouth or nose, seizures or paralysis. The final three tests in the “six-pack” require placing these caustic chemicals in the eyes or on the skin of the animals to determine levels of irritation or allergic response. EPA estimates that as many as 500 pesticide formulations undergo six-pack animal testing every year.
Most of this animal suffering is completely unnecessary because we now have non-animal alternatives for many of these tests. But even as the science is trending away from animal testing, there are still regulatory barriers that prevent the full implementation of non-animal testing strategies. EPA’s pesticide regulations are a perfect example, as they still require most manufacturers to perform all of the “six-pack” tests despite the availability of alternatives already available to determine eye and skin corrosion, and irritation and skin allergy.
A new guidance document released by the EPA will allow pesticide manufacturers to waive the need for cruel dermal toxicity tests by accepting information already obtained through oral toxicity tests. The agency has also published a letter to stakeholders stating that its “immediate goal is to significantly reduce the use of animals in acute effects testing [for pesticides].” The letter outlined steps the agency is taking now, and in the near future to address each of the “six-pack” tests.
The EPA is requesting comments on its draft guidance. Please join The HSUS in our efforts to #EndPesticideCruelty by expressing your support for the agency’s proposal to allow pesticide manufacturers to waive cruel skin poisoning tests. Comments close May 16, so it’s crucial you act now.
P.S. There is other big news looming on the animal testing front – in this case, relating to chemicals. The House and Senate are negotiating final terms for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 1976 statute that requires oversight over tens of thousands of chemicals in commercial use in our society. So many key lawmakers are aligned on the issue, pushing for the policy goal of requiring the use of scientifically appropriate alternatives to animal testing for safety. Amazingly and shockingly, New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone is standing in the way of this forward-thinking outcome, despite agreement on terms to reduce animal testing from The HSUS, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the Environmental Working Group, the Environmental Defense Fund, and even the American Chemistry Council. Please call Rep. Pallone’s office at 202/225-4671 and tell him to get on board and stop threatening countless animals with needless chemical tests, at a time when we can rely on 21st century science to help animals and protect public safety.