Last night, the Senate gave final approval to a bill that revamps a 40-year-old federal law regulating the use of chemicals. The bill contains – for the first time in any broader environmental and health protection statute – an explicit decree from Congress to minimize animal testing and to create a clear preference for the development and use of alternative methods and strategies. The section of the bill relating to animal testing, championed by Senators Cory Booker, D-NJ, and David Vitter, R-La. – and strongly supported by Senators Tom Udall, D-NM, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and committee ranking member Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. – was its own hard-fought battle, and the inclusion of this language will almost certainly accelerate the movement away from animal tests for chemicals, pesticides, biocides, cosmetics, and other potentially dangerous substances in risk assessment protocols or for safety substantiation.
Once President Obama signs this legislation, as he is expected to do in the next few days, it gives the Environmental Protection Agency an unmistakable mandate from Congress that it must continue to embrace 21stcentury science and wean itself off outdated animal testing protocols, which are expensive, slow, and often non-predictive of the human circumstance. I wrote recently that the EPA is dramatically decreasing animal tests for pesticide hazard assessments, and is now working to replace animal tests in its endocrine screening program. In fact, in 2016, the EPA proposed to waive skin lethal dose tests for pesticide formulations.
The National Institutes of Health, the largest funder of biomedical research in the world, has allocated tens of millions more in funding to the development of non-animal methods and approaches, and this work will build on the battery of non-animal-testing methods already in use and increasingly widely accepted by scientists. In testimony before a key Senate panel this year, NIH director Francis Collins predicted “that ten years from now, safety testing for newly developed drugs as well as assessment of the potential toxicity of numerous environmental exposures will be largely carried out using human biochips that are loaded with cells accurately representing heart, liver, kidney, muscle, brain and other tissues. This approach, made possible by the dramatic development of induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells), will mostly replace animal testing for drug toxicity and environmental sensing, giving results that are more accurate, at lower cost, and with higher through-put.”
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a consensus body of 36 member nations, has embraced the concept of using the best new techniques and approaches for risk assessment, and that will also accelerate the move away from animal testing on the international stage.
To be sure, this is a global movement, and there is progress on many fronts. In 2013, the European Union banned cosmetic animal testing and trade, and India followed suit the next year. Earlier this week, we announced that Australia will soon join that club.
We are making gains in other domains where animal testing has long been a feature of risk assessment. In 2012, our Humane Society International team in Europe worked to reduce animal testing requirements, perhaps by as much as 50 percent, for risk assessment for pesticide and biocides. We’ve also succeeded in convincing Brazil, Canada, the EU, and India to delete the requirement for a notorious one-year dog pesticide-poisoning study requirement (the United States deleted the requirement back in 2007).
In the past year HSI also convinced the EU to adopt animal replacement methods for skin/eye irritation, skin allergy, skin lethal dose testing and a reduced animal use test for reproductive toxicity under its chemicals law – potentially sparing 2.6 million animals the effects of these painful tests, while the Indian health ministry banned repeat animal testing of new drug imports.
In all, there is evidence around the globe that a combination of moral intention to reduce and eliminate animal testing and new technologies that give us superior options are ushering in a new paradigm in the realm of safety testing and drug efficacy work. This is the humane economy in action. The long-established practice of poisoning animals for a variety of purposes is on the way out, and it will be replaced by human biology that will give us better results and not leave a trail of animal victims in our wake. The language in the TSCA reform legislation to be signed by President Obama is the latest and, in some ways, the clearest evidence of this trend. For that reason, this legislation may be the most important animal protection gain in the entire 114th Congress.