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Campaign History

In March 2001, PETA contacted prominent environmental, consumer, and public health organizations in the United States and asked for their positions on the massive animal testing programs under development by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). We sent each group a cover letter and an issues paper explaining the animal protection community’s concerns about the EPA’s approach to chemical testing.

For example, despite killing hundreds of thousands of animals in chemical toxicity tests, the EPA has limited or banned only a handful of toxic industrial chemicals in nearly half a century using its authority under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

The chemical industry has long approved of the EPA’s near-exclusive reliance on animal tests because their results are easily manipulated. In addition, required testing means that a company’s products are safe from regulation for years while all the testing and retesting on animals is carried out. And, after decades of practice, industry representatives have perfected the art of arguing both sides of the animal testing issue.

Here’s how they do it: If a chemical is shown to cause cancer or other harmful effects in animals, industry representatives claim that the results aren’t applicable to humans. This has happened  with the pesticide atrazine and with chemicals called phthalates (ingredients in plastic products, including children’s toys). In each of these cases, companies have argued that cancers that develop in animals exposed to these chemicals would not occur in humans—and these arguments have worked. Both of these chemicals remain on the market and in widespread use despite the fact that thousands of animals have died in agony during EPA-mandated testing.

At the same time, company officials happily display the results of EPA-required animal studies suggesting that their chemicals are not harmful. In these cases, companies laud the predictability of animal testing and claim that their products are safe for humans. This is exactly what happened with cigarettes for more than 20 years: Industry scientists claimed that tobacco was safe for humans because animal tests—many of which involved cutting holes into the throats of dogs and forcing them to inhale cigarette smoke—did not cause cancer in animals.

The EPA’s misguided dependence on animal testing is so pervasive that even when evidence from human population studies implicates a chemical, the results are ignored by the EPA for the sake of conducting more animal studies. For years, population studies have shown that arsenic in drinking water causes cancer in humans. Yet the EPA dragged its feet for more than 20 years while thousands of animals were killed in tests attempting to reproduce the effects already seen in humans.

The matter is made even worse by the fact that the EPA refuses to subject animal-based test methods to the same standards of scientific rigor—to determine their reliability and relevance to humans—that all non-animal test methods must meet before they are accepted and used. The results of nonvalidated animal tests are scientifically useless as a basis upon which to regulate dangerous chemicals. So, the EPA’s animal testing programs do not protect people or the environment, despite causing enormous animal suffering. Yet some environmental groups continue to call for even more animal testing and defend every animal test, no matter how  irrelevant it is or how much pain and suffering it causes.

After outlining the futility of relying on nonvalidated animal tests to regulate dangerous chemicals, PETA asked environmental groups to sign on to a statement calling on the EPA to increase its funding and use of non-animal test methods.

Based on the responses we received, as well as other published information, we gave each environmental group a grade reflecting its level of scientific responsibility and animal-friendliness.