The U.S. Department of Agriculture and Santa Cruz Biotechnology have come to the largest settlement agreement in the history of the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act.
SCBT, one of the world’s largest suppliers of antibodies for biomedical research, will lose its license to operate as a dealer, as well as its registration to operate as a research facility with the USDA, essentially shutting the business down. It will also pay a penalty of $3.5 million.
Over the years USDA found serious violations of the law at this laboratory, including numerous severely sick and injured animals, inadequate veterinary care, failure to avoid and minimize pain and distress, and failure to consider alternatives to procedures involving animal pain and distress. USDA also discovered that SCBT’s facility was housing more than 800 goats but had denied the site’s existence to the USDA.
The HSUS informed the public of the plight of thousands of animals in this company’s hands and, along with other animal protection organizations, urged strong and meaningful agency action. We are grateful to the agency for doing just that.
It seems that the government is stepping up its attention on animal testing issues, and these strong penalties in the Santa Cruz case are just the latest example. I wrote a blog last week about reforms at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for pesticide testing. 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 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 of the animals. 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.
But the biggest change is likely to come next week if Congress gives final approval to reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the federal statute that governs hazard assessment for more than 80,000 chemicals in commercial use in our society.
Since 1976, when TSCA was enacted, only five chemicals have been removed from the marketplace. The whole risk assessment program for chemicals is broken, and that includes the animal testing component, which is plainly unreliable and inefficient. The costs run into the millions for testing a single chemical with animals, and it takes years to complete the work, typically producing inconclusive results. High throughput tests and in vitro testing methods will enable us to test millions of chemicals, at different doses, in a rapid fashion and in a far less costly way. The broad-gauged TSCA reform bill, supported by The HSUS, EPA, the Environmental Defense Fund, and a broad range of other stakeholders, would require the use of alternatives to animals where available. Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, said “we all agree, animal testing should be a last resort.” The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act makes it so.
We are immensely grateful to Senator Cory Booker, D-NJ, for leading the fight on this provision, and for Senators David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Udall, D-NM, Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., for supporting this dramatic change in the law. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and 38 other House lawmakers wrote to Rep. Pallone last week and urged him to accept the Senate-approved language to reduce animal testing for chemicals.
The government, previously both a financier and long a practitioner of animal testing, can now help lead us into the 21st century and away from animal testing in so many different domains. Please call your U.S. Representative and Senators and urge them to support the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. If that bill passes in current form, it offers the prospect of preventing miserable deaths for hundreds of thousands of animals.