Finally. After PETA has spent the past 10 years hammering away at the Environmental Protection Agency over its absurdly archaic, repetitive, and wasteful\-not to mention cruel\-chemical-toxicity tests on animals, the agency has at last released a strategic plan for improving toxicity testing that basically says, "Yeah, what PETA said."
OK, that's not exactly what it says, but the report is very encouraging, nonetheless. What it does say is that the current testing programs, which rely largely on animal tests, are costly, time-consuming, and basically not up to the task of accurately and adequately assessing the toxicity of tens of thousands of chemicals.
As the Boston Globe wrote just this week, even many researchers are now acknowledging that animal research "isn't even the best science" and that "[r]eplacing animals with human tissue has already proven to be [a] good business bet."
So, the EPA is now proposing a new "paradigm" that focuses on computer models, molecular biology, and cell cultures, using data from the human genome project, clinical trials, exposure assessments, and other technologies that the EPA calls "new"\-even though many of them have been around for more than a decade now. Some of the technologies are even being developed at the EPA!
Here's a direct quote from the report: "The overall goal of this strategy is to provide the tools and approaches to move from a near exclusive use of animal tests for predicting human health effects to a process that relies more heavily on in vitro assays, especially those using human cell lines."
Can I hear an "Amen"?
The new EPA report is based on the findings of a National Research Council report released in 2007 that said essentially the same thing. This makes sense, because the EPA actually commissioned that report\-though it's taken the agency nearly two years to evaluate the report's findings. What can we say? The wheels of justice grind slowly.
Now, if we can just get all parts of the EPA to act on its own report, we'll be getting somewhere. I say that because, just yesterday, PETA research associate Joe Manuppello testified at a hearing (which we called for) about proposed high production volume chemical tests that would kill another 10,000 animals. The proposed tests involve 15 chemicals, including sorbic acid (a naturally occurring fatty acid), castor oil, and oxalic acid, all of which are already known to be either safe or extremely toxic, based on years of experience and existing data from previous tests. At that hearing, we pointed out that the tests contradicted the EPA's own strategic plan as well as the basic animal welfare principles that the agency put into effect 10 years ago (under pressure from PETA). Those principles state that chemicals should not be retested if sufficient data already exist concerning the safety or toxicity of a chemical. According to all reports, the EPA officials found Joe's testimony riveting. (You have to wonder if PETA can find the data, why can't the EPA? Is it just a matter of caring enough to find it?)
EPA, you're moving in the right direction. Now we just need all parts of your agency to walk the talk. Until you do, you can bet that we'll be pushing you every step of the way.