The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that it will reduce requests and funding for chemical testing on mammals by 30 percent in the next five years, with a complete elimination of the practice by 2035, after which point exceptions will be made on a “case-by-case” basis.
In its place will be a prioritization for new approach methods (NAMs) for scientific research into the effects of chemical ramifications without the use of animals, such as mathematical and computer models that will assess risks to human health and the environment. A memo by EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler also established $4.25 million in funding to five leading universities across the country in order to conduct research on developing different tests for chemical exposure and risks.
Ethical reasons aside, the agency says that animal testing is “expensive and time-consuming” and presents the need to develop more accurate and cost-effective methods that align with technologies of the 21st century. Proponents say the initiative will decrease animals used while being able to evaluate more chemicals across a “broader range of biological effects” in shorter timeframes using fewer resources.
“Physicians Committee members have supported the replacement of toxicity tests on animals for many years,” said Kristie Sullivan, vice president for research policy at Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, in a statement. “We have been pleased to see the progress EPA has made to adopt newer and better test methods, and we are excited to witness the agency making a commitment to move more fully towards nonanimal tests that will better protect human health and the environment.”
The move follows a 2016 amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act that required the EPA to reduce its reliance on animal testing in the regulation of chemical safety in the US by prioritizing non-animal methods and strategies. Under the 2018-2022 fiscal year objective, the agency was further committed to reducing its reliance on animal resting within five years, a bipartisan agreement lobbied largely by the Humane Society.
“By setting bold goals for EPA-related testing, the agency can help drive science forward – creating a more humane and predictive paradigm for chemical safety assessments,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Together, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler says the two have saved more than 200,000 laboratory animals. The memo also notes that more “flexible requirements” should be developed for statutory and regulatory requirements already in place for animal testing, but what that means specifically is not immediately known. Testing will still be allowed on invertebrate species like fish.
An annual conference on technologies surrounding NAMs is to be held in collaboration with the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention and the Office of Research and Development to similarly prioritize ongoing efforts and direct existing resources toward similar activities that reduce animal testing.
A work plan is to be provided to the Administrator within six months.