Good news from federal agencies can feel like a rarity these days, but this dispatch from the Environmental Protection Agency is an excellent reminder that staffers deep in the government are hard at work to build a better world. In draft guidance on skin allergy testing for pesticides and industrial chemicals, the EPA is encouraging researchers to move away from the use of animal models.
Such testing is legally required to determine the level of hazard that various industrial products pose. Scientists aim to determine if chemicals cause skin irritation and, if so, the severity of their effects. This allows agencies to determine whether a product is safe enough to be sold to consumers, or if it needs to come with special warning labels.
Historically, this process has involved exposing animals to the chemicals in question, relying primarily on guinea pigs and mice. As part of the research, the animals are killed and autopsied to examine the effects.
The Humane Society of the United States maintains that these methods really should be consigned to history — and not just because they are cruel. Alternatives to animal testing actually appear to be more effective, which is a good reason to abandon these outdated practices.
The EPA estimates that about 10,000 animals are used in testing these products annually, thanks to stringent requirements. In order to validate results, researchers have to repeat tests multiple times in a controlled setting. This process doesn’t just involve the use of many animals; it’s also time consuming, with some testing taking several years and multiple generations of animals to complete. That, in turn, can make research very costly, presenting problems for the bottom lines of companies that want to control costs.
This move has been in the works for a while; federal agencies are notorious for taking a long time to develop and implement draft policies. It’s a step in the right direction, though — and one that may encourage people in the private sector to follow suit. The EPA is also working with other agencies, including internationally, to streamline testing requirements with the goal of reducing hiccups in the process. If testing requirements differ radically, it can be difficult for companies to bring products to market.
There’s a growing body of evidence to support ditching animal testing in favor of humane alternatives, including cruelty, cost and ineffectiveness. This policy decision is just working on the right side of history — and Congressional mandate. The Frank L. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act pushed for changes in animal testing requirements to improve the quality and safety of chemical testing.
Policies like this one can drive innovation. With federal agencies calling for viable alternatives, there’s a reason to invest in developing new products and approaches that will yield accurate, fast, and cost-effective results. Making more options available creates more opportunities to go cruelty-free, whether a company is manufacturing agricultural chemicals or beauty products. Such developments can also be used for leverage by animal welfare activists to challenge corporations and the government on the continued use of animal testing.
Like other policy proposals, this one is open for public comment, and the EPA must consider feedback from members of the public before finalizing the rule. You have until June 9, 2018 to leave a comment on this policy proposal.