Product Testing

AV magazine issue 2, 2010 2010 Issue #2 Consumer Power for Animals Laws & Animal Testing

AAVS President Sue Leary is also head of our affiliate, the Alternatives Research & Development Foundation (ARDF), and wearing that ‘hat,” she participates in a number of meetings and conferences that address science and policy issues of animal testing, and in particular, advancing alternative methods. When Sue returned recently from a series of meetings, she sat down with some AAVS friends to answer questions about how the system works and what’s on the horizon for animal testing. We thought you might want to hear Sue’s unique perspective—fresh from the field.

Is there any way to pass a law that would simply ban animal testing?
SUE LEARY You might remember a brochure published by AAVS in the early 1980s entitled “Vivisection is Wrong—There Ought to be a Law.” It expressed the fervent wish to right the wrong of vivisection with sweeping reform: a law that would stop the suffering of animals in labs. Some laws have addressed issues of animal use in experimentation, but powerful lobbies have prevented U.S. laws from getting to the roots of the problem. Those forces are still in play. Instead, through the Leaping Bunny Program, AAVS has seen much more success when our members assert themselves as consumers, going directly to companies to reduce animal testing and develop alternatives. “Voting with your dollars” is much more efficient and anyone can do it.

But AAVS works to pass laws too, right?
SL Yes, laws are important because they establish a foundation, and high-impact activities are built upon them. For example, the 7th Amendment to the Cosmetics Directive, a law passed by the European Parliament, has provided extraordinary motivation, focus, and resources to stop animal testing of cosmetics and personal care products and develop alternatives to meet firm deadlines. (see “Product Testing: The Struggle in Europe,” p. 20) Laws can also provide a legal reference point, which can be used to evaluate whether the government’s actions are moving in the right direction. AAVS cited key clauses in existing federal laws as the basis for its landmark legal actions several years ago against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). By directing researchers to use alternatives in a common laboratory procedure and by extending Animal Welfare Act protections to birds not explicitly bred for use in research, resulting policy changes affected millions of animals.

Are there federal laws that specifically require animal testing?
SL Not exactly; there are laws that require potentially dangerous chemicals to be “regulated.” You see, after laws are passed, they get referred to an agency or department to lay out regulations on how the laws will be enacted and enforced. In the case of laws to protect the public from harmful chemicals, these regulations are where we find the strict requirements for testing on animals. In general, this does not apply to cosmetics, personal care products, or typical mild household cleaners, which is why those companies can decide not to test on animals. However, for stronger chemical products, like pesticides and solvents used in manufacturing (and drugs, but we won’t be dealing with that issue here), the companies are pretty boxed in by legal requirements to conduct animal testing.

What is the point of all this testing on animals?
SL A whole field of science and industry called toxicology is involved daily in what they call “risk assessment,” evaluating whether new and improved formulas will, say, kill off an agricultural pest like boll weevils, without killing off the farm workers who apply it. Animal testing is a crude and cruel way of trying to figure that out, but there is a growing consensus, arrived at by some highly respected leaders in the field, that it is not a good way. That’s the hopeful part.

"Our presence makes it clear that all this safety testing should not be performed at the expense of the guinea pigs, rats, dogs, rabbits, monkeys, mice, fish, and other animals who are truly innocent bystanders." Sue Leary Sounds promising but I bet there are a lot of players here and everyone isn’t on the same page yet. Is that right?
SL You bet. There’s a lot at stake here, including influential economic and political interests. There are the companies that make major investments in new products and are in a competitive market where time is money and shareholders want dividends. Government scientists and administrators have a narrowly defined public responsibility that usually is focused on human health and environmental protection. And of course the “end users” have an interest as well, whether that’s a worker in the field, a frog in the riverbed, or just plain citizens who breathe the air a few blocks from the factory. Even when everyone agrees that it’s all about safety, the reality is that priorities are different.

What about AAVS and others who are pushing for the animals’ rights?
SL Well, that’s why we participate at every opportunity, trying to keep the animals’ interests front and center. Our presence makes it clear that all this safety testing should not be performed at the expense of the guinea pigs, rats, dogs, rabbits, monkeys, mice, fish, and other animals who are truly innocent bystanders, bearing the brunt of all the jockeying for dominance between competing agendas. We contribute expertise and resources and motivation.

So that’s how it works; where is it headed?
SL Right now, there is very real concern about an increase in animal testing. In recent years, there has been a steady drumbeat coming from some environmental groups and their allies to expand—significantly—the types and combinations of chemicals that need to be tested for safety. The problem is, most of the existing, accepted tests designed for making regulatory decisions—like whether the label should say “warning” or “caution”—still rely on animals. And these are among the worst tests that we know of, with the likelihood that animals will suffer a high degree of pain and distress.

You mean more testing, not less?
SL Yes, that’s why it’s important to keep pushing for alternatives. Europe provides a preview of what we’re up against. Legislation there, called REACH, passed several years ago and some estimates are that it calls for use of so many animals—approximately 54 million—that it is not even practical in terms of time, money, and even available lab space to conduct the tests. Controversy has surrounded REACH since it began and expert scientific bodies, such as the European Commission for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), have made a tremendous effort to reduce animal numbers by looking more critically at the proposed tests.

So you think that could happen here in the United States?
SL Yes, it’s possible. The Safe Chemicals Act, recently introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and under consideration in the House of Representatives as well, seeks to expand evaluation of chemical safety. If we agree that it is appropriate to protect public health, the question becomes not whether to determine risk of chemicals in our environment, but how. Fortunately, the proposed bill already includes provisions to make a serious investment in alternative methods development and other strategies to prevent an explosion of animal testing. However, even with that opportunity for progress, it still poses a significant threat to animals in labs, and will no doubt be controversial in its final form. On the other hand, it may present the single, most timely opportunity to apply new testing approaches that will be more accurate than animal testing. AAVS will be monitoring the progress of the legislation, which is being championed aggressively by its sponsors and environmental organizations, but still faces many hurdles in light of the constantly shifting political priorities in Washington.

What can we do?
SL Well, you know that with the support of companies and organizations like AAVS’s affiliate, the Alternatives Research Development Foundation (ARDF), a solid group of scientists with expertise in alternative methods has been established and is flourishing. They may hold the key to a future with sensible safety testing that helps everyone. (see “Reducing Animal Testing: Progress Continues,” p. 16) These leading toxicologists want to improve their field and offer valuable public information about risks of chemicals without harming animals. They are the architects of new approaches that will be very meaningful. We need to continue to support them through programs like ARDF’s Alternatives Research Grant Program as they develop the non-animal tests and testing strategies of tomorrow. And although consumers “voting with their dollars” may not be the path to help animals in this instance, “voting” may be just the thing. The animals need not only good consumers, but good citizens to communicate with government officials. Washington needs to hear that animals matter as science and policy advance together.

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