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June 7, 2012

Making Animal Testing Obsolete

The Human Toxicology Project

Before humans come into contact with them, many chemicals, cosmetics, and other substances are tested on animals—by dripping formaldehyde in rabbits' eyes, forcing dogs to ingest high doses of Oxycontin and injecting lethal doses of Botox into mice.

There must be a better way. But how do we get there?

For decades, the slow pace of change has hindered a move away from testing products on animals and towards a more relevant, cost-effective and humane approach. And while progress lags, animals continue to suffer.  

A revolutionary idea

An entirely new way of thinking about testing was needed, and it came in the form of a 2007 report from the National Academy of Sciences, entitled "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century, A Vision and A Strategy." The report proposed that the effects of chemicals should be assessed not in animals, but in human cells.

The idea was this: The current approach of looking for irritated eyes or skin, tumors, outright death, or other obvious outcomes in animals would be replaced over time by detecting early indications of these effects in the human body's molecules and cells. Sophisticated technology would detect these changes and then computer-based tools would interpret what they reveal about the human body.

The advantages of this new approach would be considerable:

  • a substantial reduction in testing costs and time
  • a drastic drop in the number of animals used in testing
  • the ability to test a far greater number of chemicals and other substances
  • a grounding of safety decisions in human biology rather than in how guinea pigs, rats, and other animals react under highly artificial conditions

Pushing for change

But without the right efforts, this new way of thinking could take 20 or more years to fully come to fruition.

And that’s where the Human Toxicology Project Consortium comes in. Spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States, which serves as its coordinator, the Consortium includes several industry leaders, a research institut, and HSUS affiliates Humane Society Legislative Fund and Humane Society International.

The goal of these stakeholders is to accelerate the transition away from animal testing and toward the 21st-century approaches recommended in the 2007 National Academy of Sciences' report, via a new initiative called the Human Toxicology Project.

The report’s vision has been widely embraced in principle, but what’s needed next is a move from discussion to focused action. To accomplish this, the project will need to be well-funded, coordinated, and international—on the scale of the Human Genome Project of the 1990s.

The HSUS and the Human Toxicology Project Consortium are calling upon the United States government and other governments, corporations, and stakeholders to commit to the Human Toxicology Project and back the project with $100 million per year in public and corporate funding for the next decade.

 

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