A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress recently pressed the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on its “questionable” and “dubious” animal tests. The lawmakers’ demand for information on “horrific and inhumane” animal testing at the EPA comes on the heels of a recent Johns Hopkins University study that found that high-tech computer models are more effective than animal tests.
But as scientists and elected officials are coming to the same conclusions about the inefficacy and unethical nature of animal testing, the US government is still wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and countless animals’ lives for archaic experiments opposed by most Americans. Now lawmakers have an opportunity to stop it, as Congress is currently debating federal agency budgets for 2019.
Recently, White Coat Waste Project, a watchdog group committed to ending taxpayer-funded animal experiments, uncovered how a little-known EPA program abuses approximately 20,000 animals annually in outdated air pollution experiments. The tests at the EPA’s National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory include making animals obese by feeding them lard and then forcing them to inhale diesel exhaust and smog to study the effects. In other tests, animals were blasted with loud noises and exposed to ozone, pregnant animals were stressed with light and noise and their babies were given electric shocks.
Following the exposÃ©, our organizations, the White Coat Waste Project and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, along with more than 55,000 Americans, urged Congress to cut funding for these tests and support more productive EPA programs focused on alternatives to animal tests like robotic testing systems and organs-on-chips that the EPA has acknowledged can make testing more cost-effective, accurate and efficient. Yet, a lack of transparency and accountability about the EPA’s animal testing and efforts to curb it has prevented much-needed scrutiny, until now.
To their credit, several Republican and Democratic lawmakers quickly sprang into action to address this waste and abuse.
In a recent letter to the EPA, Congressmembers Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), David Cicilline (D-Rhode Island), Dan Donovan (R-New York), Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), Scott Perry (R-Pennsylvania) and Brendan Boyle (D-Pennsylvania)—lawmakers who are often publicly at odds on other policy issues—demanded details on the EPA’s testing, writing, “These tests likely cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year, and their relevance to humans, as EPA has often acknowledged, is dubious at best.”
The same day, the House of Representatives passed language championed by Reps. Ken Calvert (R-California), David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) in the EPA’s 2019 funding bill, urging the agency to do more to reduce its animal tests and focus on high-tech alternatives to animal testing.
This is important progress, but sadly the EPA is not the only problematic agency using wasteful 100-year-old testing methods to guide 21st-century public health policy.
In May, the Waste Project and the Anti-Vivisection Society released a report titled “Toxic Testing” exposing hundreds of wasteful government animal tests by the National Toxicology Program. The report found that recent Program tests used more than 115,000 animals and 186 million taxpayer dollars, and that high-tech and cost-effective alternatives to animal testing are woefully underused.
One of the outlandish animal testing series documented included 25 million taxpayer dollars and 10 years spent to blast 3,000 animals with cellphone radiation equivalent to 10 iPhones all day, every day, for two years before killing and dissecting them. At the study’s conclusion, the National Toxicology Program told The Washington Post, “Given the inconsistent pattern of the findings, the fact that the subjects were rats and mice rather than people and the high level of radiation used, [the study] could not extrapolate from the data the potential health effects on humans.” Of course, this information was obvious prior to conducting the research, but they proceeded anyway.
In another troubling set of at least 36 different tests costing around $5 million, the Program force-fed and injected thousands of animals with acrylamide, a by-product in coffee and French fries using, as the National Institutes of Health put it, “doses 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the levels people might be exposed to in foods.” Based on these inherently flawed rodent tests, the Program concluded that acrylamide can “reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen.”
Yet, the National Cancer Institute—which, like the National Toxicology Program, resides within the Institutes of Health—reports, “a large number of epidemiologic studies … in humans have found no consistent evidence that dietary acrylamide exposure is associated with the risk of any type of cancer.” Similarly, the American Cancer Society states that “there are currently no cancer types for which there is clearly an increased risk related to acrylamide intake.”
The public health and policy impacts of this misleading animal testing are significant. Based on animal tests of acrylamide by the Program and others, a California court ruled that Starbucks and other coffee sellers must now include cancer warnings on coffee cups, despite there being no evidence of health risks in humans.
This is an issue that bridges the growing left-right divide. Consider the fact that Pulitzer-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald recently retweeted an article from the conservative Daily Caller about the EPA’s animal testing, writing, “Disgust and opposition to horrific government experiments on animals is not only growing rapidly, but is becoming bipartisan and trans-ideological.” He’s right. National polls conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies have recently found that 79 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Democrats want to cut EPA spending on animal tests, and that three-quarters of all voters think federal agencies should be required to replace animal tests with high-tech alternatives whenever possible.