Sen. Lautenberg’s last bill needs 'last resort' clause for animal testing

The senators introduced the legislation in May, just two weeks before Lautenberg’s death. So important was this bill to the late senator, people close to him such as former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean (R) and the senator’s widow Bonnie Englebardt Lautenberg have lobbied senators on its behalf soon after his passing. These supporters understand the bill’s relevance to the late senator’s legacy. They recognize that the CSIA has the potential to better safeguard the health of our families and our environment from the hazards of toxic chemicals than previous attempts at reform because it calls for a flexible framework for chemical assessment based on human-relevant data and modern testing methods.

As a toxicologist and a parent, I joined other scientists at the Physicians Committee to provide guidance to Congress on toxicity testing policy. The CSIA includes many of these suggestions, including principles to replace and reduce obsolete animal-based test methods and to increase the use of information from in vitro and computational tools. The bill prioritizes testing for chemicals likely to be hazardous to keep focus on the most dangerous chemicals first. It also directs the Environmental Protection Agency to consider all available data on chemicals in assessing safety and before requiring new testing.

These improvements are important because our current toxicity-testing framework rests squarely on archaic and unreliable animal tests. These testing methods can take years to conduct, and animals often provide inaccurate information about chemicals’ effects in humans. True reform requires legislation that modernizes the test methods on which chemical safety decisions are made. We must move toward human-relevant methods that are faster, cheaper, more reliable, and use fewer or no animals.

Because chemicals are regulated based on their potential for causing harmful effects, whether and how scientists conduct toxicity testing is an essential centerpiece of any chemical safety legislation. Effective regulations start with modern science, and chemical safety is something that touches each of our lives every day.

The CSIA will help speed the transition from outdated to modern methods by requiring the EPA to move away from using animals in chemical testing. The legislation also directs the agency to fund research into nonanimal methods, including those recommended by the National Academy of Sciences in its 2007 report Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy, and to make sure those methods replace current animal tests. The EPA itself has even called for more human-relevant toxicity testing methods.

The CSIA misses one essential opportunity by encouraging, rather than requiring, strategies to minimize animal testing. Elected leaders would best serve public health by harmonizing the legislation with its European Union counterpart, which requires that new animal tests only be conducted as a last resort. Such a requirement is crucial to the rapid development and adoption of new methods and fostering improvements in toxicity testing policy that offer superior public health protection.

On July 31, the Senate will hold a hearing on the CSIA. We hope to see Senate leaders include provisions to use animals only as a last resort, after all other, more human-relevant methods of obtaining information have been used, and for the House to follow the Senate’s bipartisan, common-sense approach. Such progress toward protecting people and animals would be a fitting tribute to Lautenberg’s leadership and a cornerstone of his legacy.

Sullivan, with a Master of Public Health degree, is a toxicologist and the Director of Regulatory Testing Issues for the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. 

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