A rabbit is strapped down, crudely shaved, and a chemical is rubbed onto her raw, bloodied skin, burning though several layers of tissue. Another is repeatedly poisoned, impregnated, and her babies cut up, examined and killed. A rat is stuffed into an "inhalation chamber" like a sock in a sock tube at Walmart for hours on end without being able to move a muscle. A syringe filled with cancer-causing chemicals is shoved down the throat and into the stomach of a tiny 6-week old mouse and this agonizing procedure continues for his entire life until he is riddled with painful tumors. None of these animals are given any pain relief.
In an effort to avoid regulation, the chemical industry will question the data from these federally mandated studies and the government - unsure of what the data mean for humans and of how to respond - will deposit the data in a filing cabinet. Meanwhile, the studies are repeated and hundreds and thousands of animals will suffer and die in these horrific experiments each passing year.
As an expert in worker safety and health and a former scientist for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, I have seen firsthand how federal regulations protecting us from dangerous chemicals have been delayed or denied because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)'s Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) - which regulates how chemicals are tested and managed in the US - relies heavily on the results of inconclusive and unreliable animal tests.
We have forced toxic chemicals down the throats of animals, stuffed animals into restraint tubes to inhale poisonous vapors, and burned their skin and eyes, yet workers have died of chromium and benzene poisoning and whole populations have been affected by arsenic in drinking water when data from such animal experiments failed to show the same effects we knew were occurring in humans. Since TSCA was created in 1976, the EPA has only regulated a handful of chemicals, largely because of the questionable relevance of animal test results to humans. Trying to understand what happens in humans by studying animals is like trying to get from New York to Los Angeles using a map of Australia - you will get lost!
Fortunately, Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have introduced a bill aimed at fixing TSCA and modernizing the process by which chemicals are tested. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697) contains crucial language that will require the EPA to fund the development and use of cutting-edge non-animal tests and ensure that non-animal tests and all other available testing methods are explored before using animals. The bill adheres to the principles of the landmark 2007 National Academy of Sciences report, "Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and A Strategy," which recommends moving away from animal testing toward cell-and tissue-based cultures, biochips, and high-throughput robotic and computational methods. While testing one chemical on animals takes three years and $6 million, the EPA can (and already does) use sophisticated non-animal methods to screen thousands of chemicals in just a few weeks at a fraction of the cost.
The language of S. 697 isn't perfect: we want an end to all toxicity testing on animals. But the bill goes further than any other legislation to date to help spur the rapid development and use of non-animal methods to meet US regulations. This is a big step in the right direction and makes the bill's passage important. The bipartisan bill currently has 40 cosponsors and the support of stakeholders from national environmental and health groups, but some groups support a competing bill that has stripped the language in S. 697 promoting non-animal tests. These groups not only show a callous indifference to animal suffering, but their efforts will keep chemical regulations stagnant and keep us exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals.
The animal tests we are using today were developed around the time of World War I. Imagine if we were still using the same communications methods (carrier pigeons) and the same writing tools (manual typewriters) as we were then. Yet to some it is perfectly acceptable to remain at a standstill when it comes to the modernization of toxicological testing methods.
We cannot afford to stay on this path while taxpayer money is wasted, children are unprotected, and animals languish in laboratories. The Udall-Vitter bill is not only our best hope right now to ensure that we have the tools to quickly and effectively evaluate the safety of the products we use every day, but to also spare as many animals as possible from cruel chemical testing.
Jessica Sandler, MHS
Senior Director, Regulatory Testing Department, PETA