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June 26, 2007

Kinder Course for Chemical Tests

The United States has been overshadowed by Europe for well over a decade when it comes to being the world leader in advancing non-animal methods of chemical testing. In 2005, for example, European government and industry established the European Partnership on Alternatives to Animal Testing, with the long-term goal of replacing all use of animals in toxicity testing. This alliance has no counterpart in the United States.

A recent report by an influential American body, however, may chart a new, kinder and scientifically sophisticated course for the United States. The National Academy of Sciences report proposes a new approach to assessing chemical safety that moves away from animal testing. Indeed, the new approach could eventually eliminate animal testing altogether, according to a statement released by the Academy.

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© iStockphoto

If the innovations detailed in this report come to fruition in the coming years, untold millions of animals will be spared annually from the miseries of laboratory testing, including dogs, mice, primates, rabbits and rats. Today, commercial chemicals, pesticides and other substances are typically tested for safety by dispensing large doses to groups of animals and then observing the animals for symptoms of disease. As the report notes, these animal tests are of questionable relevance for humans, are time-consuming and costly, and cannot handle the enormous backlog of untested agents or meet new and multiplying challenges of chemical safety.

Instead of poisoning animals and looking for overt health effects, the report, entitled “Toxicity Testing in the Twenty-first Century: A Vision and A Strategy,” calls for an approach that focuses on monitoring “toxicity pathways” at the molecular level, emphasizing human cells and processes. The proposed in vitro testing methods would incorporate emerging biological information and technical approaches, combined with sophisticated existing tools that assess chemically induced changes in, for example, genes.

The report recognizes that such a vision and strategy will require years and substantial resources to implement. What is needed now is the kind of government-industry partnership evident in Europe, bolstered by other stakeholders, including the animal protection community. The HSUS is proud to have had a representative on the committee that prepared this report, and we are prepared to take a lead role in ensuring that this vision becomes a reality. We have already started discussions with key stakeholders in the United States and Europe about the need to develop and refine available technology, and eliminate animal testing as soon as possible.

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