Is Animal Testing Ever Justified?

Is Animal Testing Ever Justified?

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On Sept. 10, the Environmental Protection Agency said it would move away from requiring the testing of potentially harmful chemicals on animals, a decision that was hailed by animal rights groups but criticized by environmentalists and researchers who said the practice was necessary to rigorously safeguard human health.

What are your thoughts on animal testing? Do you think it is ever justified? Why or why not?

In “E.P.A. Says It Will Drastically Reduce Animal Testing,” Mihir Zaveri, Mariel Padilla and Jaclyn Peiser write about the decision:

The E.P.A. Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the agency plans to reduce the amount of studies that involve mammal testing by 30 percent by 2025, and to eliminate the studies entirely by 2035, though some may still be approved on a case-by-case basis.

The agency said it would also invest $4.25 million in projects at four universities and a medical center that are developing alternate ways of testing chemicals that do not involve animals.

“We can protect human health and the environment by using cutting-edge, ethically sound science in our decision-making that efficiently and cost-effectively evaluates potential effects without animal testing,” Mr. Wheeler said in a memo announcing the changes.

The E.P.A. has for decades required testing on a variety of animals — including rats, dogs, birds and fish — to gauge their toxicity before the chemicals can be bought, sold or used in the environment.

The article continues:

The practice of testing with animals has long prompted complex debates driven by passionate views on morality and scientific imperative. Reaction to Tuesday’s announcement was no different.

“We are really excited as this has been something we’ve wanted for quite some time,” said Kitty Block, the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection organization. “The alternatives are the future. They’re more efficient and save lives.”

Kathleen Conlee, the vice president of animal research issues at the Humane Society, said the E.P.A.’s move is “broad-sweeping and significant.”

“This is the first time a government agency has made such a commitment and timelined its specific goals along the way,” Ms. Conlee said. “There’s been a lot of positive action among other federal agencies, but we want to see all government agencies take this step.”

Tracey Woodruff, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco’s school of medicine, said current alternatives to animal testing are somewhat useful. But Dr. Woodruff, who worked at the E.P.A. from 1994 to 2007, said only animal testing — a process honed over decades — was robust enough to gauge chemicals’ impacts on people of various ages, genetics and health backgrounds.

“I definitely think we should be investing more in this research,” she said, referring to alternative testing. “But it’s really not ready for making decisions yet — at least the way that E.P.A. is making decisions.”

Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said she was very concerned by the announcement. Dr. Sass said animals were still necessary to study chronic conditions, like cancer and infertility.

Cells in a petri dish cannot yet replace whole living systems, she said.

“The E.P.A.’s deadline is arbitrary,” Dr. Sass said. “Our interest isn’t in speed, it’s getting it right. We want proper animal testing because we don’t want harmful chemicals to end up in our food, air and water.”

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • Do you support the decision by the E.P.A. to move away from requiring the testing of potentially harmful chemicals on animals? Or do you think animal testing is still necessary to regulate harmful substances that can have adverse effects on humans?

  • How important is it to you that the toxicity of chemicals and other environmental contaminants is rigorously studied and regulated? Why? Do you think not testing on animals hinders those efforts?

  • The Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs are among the government agencies that still rely on animal testing. Do you think animal testing is important in these sectors or any others? Why or why not?

  • Do you think animal testing is ever justified? If so, what should be the criteria for when, how and on what animals testing is done?

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.