February 25, 2010
The End of Animal Testing
The HSUS works with scientists, governments, and corporations to pioneer methods that replace animal use
by Angela Moxley
A hidden cost lurks behind the sweetener in your morning coffee, the paint on your living room walls, perhaps even the soap you use to wash your hands.
At some point in their development, these products or their raw ingredients may have been applied to the eyes or skin of live animals, injected into their bodies, or pumped into their stomachs or airways. In tests of potential carcinogens, subjects are given a substance every day for two years; other tests involve killing pregnant animals and studying the fetuses.
Governments in most developed countries require a battery of experiments on materials including food additives, drugs and vaccines, pesticides, and many other chemicals. The results may be used to ban potential toxins, formulate standards to protect workers who handle them, warn certain classes of people such as pregnant women against taking a drug, or create packaging labels to let consumers know what to do if, for example, the product splashes into their eyes.
But the real-life applications for some tested substances are as trivial as an “improved” laundry detergent, a new eye shadow, or a copycat drug to replace a profitable pharmaceutical whose patent has expired.
No one knows exactly how many animals suffer each year for toxicity testing, but the annual toll is likely in the millions in the U.S. alone.
Each test consumes dozens to thousands of animals a piece, says Troy Seidle, Humane Society International director for research and toxicology; registration of a single pesticide requires more than 50 experiments and the use of as many as 12,000 animals.
But recent years have brought a growing recognition among scientists and government officials that the welfare of animals in laboratories matters to the public, that animal tests often don’t predict effects in people, and that they are simply too inefficient to meet the high demand for chemical testing. These changes have spurred a revolution that is moving the field toward tests performed in computer simulations and modern-day petri dishes— developments that could spell the end of animal use in toxicology within two decades.
In conducting conventional animal tests, says Martin Stephens, HSUS vice president of animal research issues, “you don’t have to know a lot about animals’ biology; you hope that it’s similar to our own and you just do the test. Whereas now we know a lot more about human and animal biology, and we can model things in the test tube that we couldn’t necessarily do 50 years ago.”
The old methods are “basically using animals as surrogate people,” he says. “We can do better.”