In a major announcement earlier this month, the EPA has said it will stop conducting or funding studies on mammals by 2035. Most animal rights organizations welcome the announcement, although there are also a few detractors. The EPA is the first federal agency to place an actual deadline on phasing out animal research, The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reports.
This move by the EPA is unprecedented
The EPA has relied on animal testing as a method of evaluating the risks chemicals and pesticides may pose to human health. The agency has taken steps in recent years to encourage new alternatives and updated technologies.
Organizations like PETA and the Humane Society hail this news as a win, CNN reports.
“PETA is celebrating the EPA’s to protect animals certainly, but also humans and the environment, by switching from cruel and scientifically flawed animal tests in favor of modern, non-testing methods,” notes Dr. Amy Clippinger, director of PETA’s regulatory department.
Andrew Wheeler, EPA Administrator reports that $4.25 million in grant funding will be provided via the agency to the following five universities: Johns Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Oregon State University, and the University of California Riverside. The purpose of the funding is to research alternative methods like computer modeling and in-vitro testing.
“This is a long-standing personal belief on my behalf,” Wheeler noted, referring to an op-ed he wrote for The Observer, his college newspaper at Case Western Reserve University, in 1987.
Justin Goodman, vice president of advocacy and public policy at the White Coat Waste Project (WCW) lauded the EPA’s decision as “a decisive win for taxpayers, animals, and the environment.”
“Animal tests are unreliable and misleading,” he added.
The WCW has been instrumental in shuttering a kitten experimentation lab run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Researchers killed more than 3,000 healthy kittens and incinerated them inside this lab during a 37-year-period.
But there are questions about the EPA’s real motives
While it’s certainly good news that the EPA is taking steps to end animal testing, not everyone is on board with the idea. Some say that ending animal testing may cause some potentially hazardous problems. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, an environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., has sharp criticism for the agency’s decision.
“It’s very disappointing and very frustrating,” she adds.
Discontinuing animal testing, Sass believes, “is going to allow potentially dangerous chemicals to get out there into the environment and into consumer products.”
“EPA is eliminating tools that lay the groundwork for protecting the public from dangers like chlorpyrifos, formaldehyde, and PFAS (perfluorooctanoic acid, an industrial surfactant). Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals — and protect human health,” Sass warned.
The EPA has long used animal testing to gauge the safety of chemicals. However, chemical companies have also complained that the tests (which many companies pay for) are expensive and time-consuming.
Some critics also question Wheeler’s motives
Their concerns are not without reason, notes Verdict.Justia reports. Wheeler is a former coal industry lobbyist and climate-change denier. He has a law degree and an MBA but he’s not a scientist. And through the Freedom of Information Act, The Intercept uncovered EPA staff emails that revealed chemical industry representatives favored the idea of reducing animal testing, especially as a way to save money.
And one scientist (who experiments on mice) noted in the article that “an industry-friendly EPA would eliminate animal testing for the very purpose of failing to detect some risks that cannot be detected by any other way, thereby allowing marketing of unsafe chemicals that might be detected by animal experimentation,” Justia notes.
Even so, the EPA is still doing a good thing
It’s not clear at this point how many animals or research projects will be affected by this. The EPA itself estimates that researchers use 20,000 to 100,000 animals in the toxicology studies submitted to the agency each year.
Scientists use most of the creatures are used to test the safety of environmental pollutants like smog and ozone. Other companies use rabbits, dogs, and guinea pigs in order to meet the EPA safety requirements on the safety of new products.
The only thing I don’t know is why the EPA is taking so long to phase these experiments out; 2035 is a long way off. But our fellow creatures will benefit from this and they deserve nothing less. I don’t believe any animals should be experimented on, but this is definitely one big step in the right direction.