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New EPA plan to reduce animal testing will protect animals, the environment and taxpayers
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just announced a historic plan to end cruel and unnecessary animal testing by 2035. This is a watershed moment for animal welfare, public health, and environmental protection, and I'm proud to have led the efforts on Capitol Hill for over two decades to help get us here.
Historically, it's been standard practice for new and existing chemicals that people come into contact with to be tested on animals including dogs, primates, rabbits and mice. These animals are forced to ingest or breathe massive doses of substances and even have it rubbed into their eyes and on their skin, sometimes even to the point of death. In tests exposed last year by a watchdog group, animals at an EPA lab were being made to eat lard and breathe smog. Altogether, it's estimated that EPA tests over 100,000 animals each year.
Not only is this cruel, it wastes an enormous amount of taxpayer resources because the tests are slow, expensive and misleading.
Some individual animal tests for a single chemical can cost $4 million, take years to complete, and kill hundreds of animals. On top of that, these animal tests are very unreliable at predicting what happens in people.
For example, inhaling the same substance effects humans and other animals differently. Tobacco smoke didn't cause cancer in lab animals, but it does in humans. Relying on old-fashioned animal tests puts people at risk.
Two decades ago, recognizing the costs-economic and otherwise-of animal testing, I introduced bipartisan legislation to facilitate a shift to what are generally called "alternative methods." These technologies reduce and replace the crude use of animals for screening chemicals. The bill, which was signed into law in 2000, created the first permanent federal program with the specific mission of promoting acceptance and use of alternatives to animal testing conducted by and required by 15 different federal agencies, including the EPA.
The program helped usher in a new era of chemical screening that more heavily relied on alternative methods including computer models, high-tech robotic systems, and petri dish tests using ethically-collected human cells. Over the years, researchers in government, academia and industry continued to document the enormous benefits of these new methods.
Then, in 2007, the National Academies issued a landmark report calling for the EPA to shift from animal testing to alternatives.
In the decade or so since, the EPA has initiated a variety of important programs to reduce taxpayer-funded animal testing, as well as unnecessary animal testing required of industry. The EPA reports that its efforts in recent years have saved 200,000 animals.
As the immediate past chairman of the EPA's funding panel, I have been proud year-after-year to prioritize funding for EPA programs focused on alternatives to animal testing, and to decrease spending of taxpayer dollars on needless animal tests.
The EPA's new direction is already having benefits for scientists back home, too. The University of California-Riverside is receiving a nearly $900,000 EPA grant for the development of human cell tests to identify whether substances cause birth defects.
It's worth noting how bipartisan and widely-appealing these efforts have always been, even in otherwise politically divided times. Three-quarters of Americans want to end animal testing. It's been a pleasure over the years to work with diverse stakeholders ranging from the American Chemical Society, to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, to the animal-testing watchdog group White Coat Waste Project.
I applaud the EPA for recognizing that we can protect animals, the environment and taxpayers by sending animal testing to the trash bin of history.
Congressman Ken Calvert represents the 42nd District of California in the U.S. House of Representatives.