You may have heard the news that the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program, and the National Institutes of Health have signed a “Memorandum of Understanding” to coordinate efforts on alternative methods to animal experimentation. This stuff is always more complicated than it sounds, so it’s not quite time to pop the champagne corks just yet (as some groups have been doing)—but feel free to put the bubbly on ice, because it’s a good sign that our hard work is paying off.
Courtesy of the good folks in PETA’s Regulatory Testing Division—who have been working behind the scenes with these agencies for years to get them to admit that their bloated animal testing programs (which are responsible for the suffering and death of hundreds of millions of animals) are outdated, ineffective, and, frankly, absurd—here’s a little rundown on what this all means, and how it came about:
First of all, this is a significant about-face for the NTP and the EPA—both of whom have been shockingly resistant to incorporating modern science into their toxicity testing programs. It looks like the United States is finally beginning to realize (as Europe has known for some time and as the animal protection community has been advocating for years) that the public and the environment can be better protected through non-animal in vitro tests based on well-understood biological principles than by throwing wads of cash and millions upon millions of lives into the bottomless pit of animal testing.
Fighting this entrenched, bureaucratic mentality over the past couple of decades hasn’t been easy—and, as usual, we’ve had to use a two-pronged attack to get it done: While our Regulatory Testing Division comments on each animal testing plan that the EPA and the NTP puts forward, works directly with top corporations doing the testing and finding alternatives, testifies at government workshops and before Congress, and, occasionally, sues the government to disclose their deliberations about promoting animal tests, our Campaigns Department gets out the billboards, the bullhorns, and the bunny suits and shouts about these ludicrous, wasteful experiments to anyone who will listen. During this time, PETA has convinced the Department of Transportation to stop testing corrosive substances on rabbits, followed Al Gore around on his campaign stops with a 10-foot rabbit to convince him to stop pushing EPA animal tests, and worked (ever-so-patiently) to persuade regulatory agencies which still believe that it’s important, for example, to keep testing asbestos on animals (the NTP) and which have failed to ban a single toxic industrial chemical in more than a decade (the EPA) that maybe it’s time to stop testing on animals and start using modern science instead. We’ve also funded the development and incorporation of non-animal test methods to the tune of more than ¾ million dollars in recent years.
This new collaboration is certainly something different, and it’s a promising step in the right direction—but it has to be backed up with Congressional will and funding if it’s going to get anywhere. A new entity must be created with the resources to get the job done—it can not be left to the EPA and the NTP. The fact that the head of the human genome project is involved with this is a good sign—it’s going to take an intense, focused effort on the scale of the human genome project to get the job done.
So we’re hoping that the prevailing wind surrounding the National Research Council’s vision and the newly announced collaboration between the NTP and the EPA will provide the momentum necessary to overcome the inertia that has characterized the American government’s attitude to toxicity testing for decades, and which causes the suffering and death of more than 15 million animals every year.
For more information on what you can do to help animals used for experimentation, check out StopAnimalTests.com.