In a long-awaited victory for animal rights, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set out to reduce cruel and needless animal experimentation in chemical toxicity testing.
With the reformation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) in 2016, the EPA was charged with evaluating and regulating toxic chemicals on a larger scale than previously required under the original, outdated 1976 law. It also was charged with a new requirement: an EPA plan for animal-free testing by June 22, 2018.
The EPA has since outlined “…a strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative test methods and strategies to reduce, refine, or replace vertebrate animal testing and provide information of equivalent or better scientific quality and relevance for assessing risks of injury to health or the environment …”
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) is working to help the EPA chart alternatives to animal testing. One of NTP’s goals is to “develop and validate improved testing methods and, where feasible, ensure that they reduce, refine, or replace the use of animals.”
There are many ways to test chemicals without torturing animals: in-vitro tests, computer simulation, reconstructed 3D models with human qualities, and stem cell research. Animals such as rats, mice, and birds are not covered under the Animal Welfare Act and unfortunately they are the most often victimized by testing. Eliminating animals from testing can spare those who have no legal protection otherwise.
This past year, the EPA has made some slight progress in reducing the use of animal tests. New pesticide applications every year are traditionally cause for toxicity testing on rabbits, guinea pigs, and mice. But the EPA is currently working to replace skin and eye irritation tests, as well as animal-based oral and inhalation toxicity tests. With the help of The National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) and the National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences, an in vitro, human lung-cell-based inhalation procedure could be adopted.
For all the suffering induced, chemical testing on animals is a largely inaccurate way to test the effects of chemical toxicity on human beings. The EPA knew this more than a decade ago, and yet ignored its own request in chemical testing policy: In 2007, the U.S. National Research Council (NRC), at the request of the EPA, released a report advocating for a future with lab tests on human cells instead of on animals. It argued that testing on humans was more accurate to determine human risk, and was also faster and more cost effective.
It seems obvious that human tissue should be used to determine toxicity on humans. And there is little evidence to support the veracity of the claim that animal testing is beneficial — yet, a misguided social construct deems it necessary. Perhaps it’s purely a rejection of science and true understanding how testing works. The EPA itself has been reluctant to adopt alternatives, despite the fact that scientists have been working on non-animal research methods for years.
There are over 80,000 chemicals in the United States whose effects on human health remain unknown. That’s a staggering amount of hazardous chemicals in our day-to-day activities that’s largely ignored. Having dangerous substances untested and unregulated before production and usage is a known public health hazard. But testing on animals isn’t the solution. It’s cruel, inaccurate, and time consuming. And with tens of thousands of chemicals saturating our air, water, food, and more, time is not something to be ignored.