By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Dogs and cats in Illinois laboratories will be saved from painful and outdated toxicity testing thanks to a first-of-its-kind law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Friday. Under the new law, it won’t be permissible to use dogs and cats in Illinois laboratories in toxicity testing—tests that attempt to determine how a substance, ingredient or drug may affect human health—unless the test is explicitly deemed necessary by a federal agency.
Toxicity tests not only cause immense animal suffering, but they also do a very poor job of predicting human reactions to toxic substances—a coin toss, at best. Yet dogs are often used to test toxic effects of a chemical or substance in humans. The dogs used in these tests—typically beagles bred specifically for sale to laboratories—spend their entire lives in barren laboratory settings. There, they are forced to ingest, inhale or are injected with potentially toxic substances, endure countless painful and distressful procedures, and are killed when the experiment ends.
This new law, in addition to prohibiting dog and cat testing, will push laboratories to invest in more accurate alternatives that do not rely on these kinds of animal tests.
Up until now, Illinois laboratories did not need approval from any government agency to perform toxicity tests on dogs, and often carried out tests without even checking to ensure that they were actually needed. Under the new law, they will need to confirm which tests are required before carrying them out, eliminating wasteful tests that unnecessarily harm dogs.
One experiment that will be prohibited because of this law is the one-year pesticide test on dogs. During this experiment, researchers force dozens of dogs to ingest pesticides via a tube painfully forced down their throats every day for a year. The dogs are killed at the end of the experiment if they have not already died from the toxic effects of the pesticides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency eliminated this test requirement more than a decade ago, yet nothing is stopping companies from carrying this out and we have found evidence that some have continued to do so.
The passage of this law is not just a win for dogs and cats in Illinois labs—it’s also a win for humans. Because animals and humans are very different, results from animal tests are often not applicable to people. For example, extensive evidence demonstrates that results from toxicity tests in animals often don’t accurately predict toxicity in humans. In fact, approximately 90% of drugs ultimately fail in human trials; about half of these failures are due to unexpected toxic effects in humans following animal tests.
In contrast, non-animal alternatives are much more sophisticated than the toxicity tests that rely on animals. These new technologies use human cells, tissues and organs, 3D printing, robotics, computer models and other methods to more accurately and effectively predict how the human body will respond to drugs, pesticides, chemicals and other substances. They are also typically faster and less expensive than animal tests.
Legislators, scientists, industry, regulators and the public increasingly want to see these humane alternatives replace outdated animal experiments. We have been working via a multifaceted approach at federal and state levels for years to ensure a paradigm shift in scientific testing.
We’ve secured funding commitments for the EPA and Food and Drug Administration to accelerate the development of non-animal methods and reduce or eliminate animal testing. We are advocating for the FDA to create a dedicated position at the agency to ensure that non-animal methods for drugs, medical devices, vaccines and cosmetics are being developed, approved and used in place of outdated animal tests. Additional work we’re doing on the federal level is to question the scientific validity of animal tests, including the 90-day dog pesticide test, which is currently required by the EPA. Our extensive analysis of whether this test is necessary demonstrates that it should be waived, just as the one-year test was. Just this week, our peer-reviewed paper about this topic appeared in the journal Critical Reviews in Toxicology.
For years, too, we have been championing the Humane Cosmetics Act, a bill that is also supported by the nation’s largest cosmetics trade association that, if passed, would end cosmetics animal testing in the U.S.
At the state level, we are also advocating for the passage of humane laws like the one just passed in Illinois to curb animal testing:
- In Oregon, a bill banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals is on the governor’s desk.
- In California, a bill would strengthen an existing law that requires laboratories to replace animal testing with non-animal alternatives approved by government agencies.
- In Massachusetts, a bill would mandate that companies use alternative test methods when they are available for products such as cosmetics, pesticides, industrial chemicals and household cleaners.
- In Maryland, a new law will require that animal laboratories contribute to a research fund that will be used to provide grants for scientists developing non-animal research alternatives.
- In Virginia, a new law will require publicly funded animal laboratory websites to include links to their U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports and annual reports, which detail the species and number of certain animals used in research and testing.
- In Michigan, Teddy’s Law, named in honor of one of the beagles released as a result of our 2018 undercover investigation at a Michigan laboratory, would require laboratories to ensure that dogs and cats used for testing have the opportunity to be adopted into loving homes after leaving the laboratory and to report the number of dogs and cats adopted out each year.
- In Pennsylvania, legislation would bar breeding facilities with certain animal welfare violations from selling dogs and cats to laboratories, prohibit state funding for experiments involving dogs and cats, and ensure that dogs and cats have an opportunity to be adopted after their use in the laboratory.
The world is already benefiting from sophisticated non-animal alternatives that reduce or eliminate animal suffering while advancing human health, but there’s still so much work to be done. We are proud to be working with legislators, scientists and others to bring us closer to a future where animals no longer suffer in the name of science.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.