(TMU) — In a move being hailed by animal rights advocates across the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency has pledged this week to “aggressively reduce animal testing” and eliminate all mammal tests by 2035.
According to Science magazine, the move will make the EPA the very first federal agency to impose a hard deadline that ends animal testing.
On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the directive winding down the practice. Upon signing the directive, Wheeler said:
“Today’s memo directs the agency to aggressively reduce animal testing, including reducing mammal study requests and funding 30% by 2025 and completely eliminating them by 2035.
We are also awarding $4.25 million to advance the research and development of alternative test methods for evaluating the safety of chemicals that will minimize, and hopefully eliminate, the need for animal testing.”
Speaking to NPR, Dr. Thomas Hartung, the director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins University said:
“I think this is really taking action. I was very surprised. I did not expect such a strong position.”
Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) likewise greeted the move as a “breakthrough,” noting that their organization has pushed the EPA for decades to end the testing of toxic chemicals on small mammals such as rabbits, mice, rats and dogs.
In a statement released by the agency, PETA Regulatory Testing Department director Dr. Amy Clippinger said:
“PETA is celebrating the EPA’s decision to protect animals certainly—but also humans and the environment—by switching from cruel and scientifically flawed animal tests in favor of modern, non-animal testing methods.
PETA will be helping regulatory agencies and companies switch to efficient and effective, non-animal testing approaches and working toward a day when all animal tests are only found in history books.”
The @EPA will end requests for and funding of toxic tests on mammals by 2035! PETA worked with the EPA for decades to prevent rabbits, mice, rats, and dogs from having to ingest or inhale toxic chemicals.
Find out how the agency will move towards a more animal-friendly future. pic.twitter.com/MuLnW8qGLc
— PETA (@peta) September 11, 2019
Not all have been pleased by the move to curb animal testing, however.
Environmentalist non-profit group the Natural Resource Defense Council blasted the move as suspect, noting that the “irresponsible” decision may have been more about the EPA administrator’s conflicted relation with major chemical companies rather than concern over animal welfare.
In a blistering statement by the group, Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the NRDC’s Healthy People and Thriving Communities program, said:
“EPA is eliminating tools that lay the groundwork for protecting the public from dangers like chlorpyrifos, formaldehyde and PFAS. Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals—and protect human health.
Once again, the Trump administration appears to be working on behalf of the chemical industry and not the public. Congress should bar the agency from blindfolding itself.”
"Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals—and protect human health. Once again, the Trump administration appears to be working on behalf of the chemical industry and not the public." –@JBSass
— NRDC 🌎 (@NRDC) September 10, 2019
Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who critics have blasted as a climate change denier, has denied any conflict of interest noted that he once wrote an op-ed for his college newspaper calling for a reduction in animal research back in 1987. Wheeler said:
“I really do think that with the lead time that we have in this—16 years before we completely eliminate animal testing—that we have enough time to come up with alternatives … This has been a long-standing belief of mine on animal testing.”
“Part of why I’m doing this today is because it’s been 30 years and we haven’t made enough progress.”
In a report released earlier this summer, the Intercept noted that the agency has indeed consulted major transnational chemical corporations such as Dow about alternatives to animal testing, such as computer modeling and tests on cells. Such alternatives have met opposition from some in the scientific community who see the methods as woefully inadequate.
Despite the outcry from scientists who see a reduction of animal testing as anti-scientific, arguing that adverse effects of chemicals are far different in a living being than within a petri dish, politicians on both sides of the aisle have supported reductions in animal testing.
However, University of Massachusetts Amherst biologist Thomas Zoeller told the Intercept:
“If you exclusively depend on in vitro toxicology or mathematical modeling, you’re going to miss all the different interactions that happen in a physiological system—whether in rat, mouse, human, or a fetus. You simply cannot replicate that.
EPA is well aware that these cells don’t replicate human metabolism. So when it comes to bioactivation, they’re going to miss all that—and they know that.”