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The EPA Will End Mammal Testing by 2035

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Scientist watching mice in laboratory. Adam Gault / OJO Images / Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) pledged Tuesday to "aggressively reduce animal testing" and to end funding for mammal tests by 2035. The move makes the EPA the first federal agency to set a timeline for ending animal tests, according to Science Magazine.


The EPA will first reduce new mammal tests and funding by 30 percent by 2025, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced. He also promised $4.25 million towards the development of alternative methods for testing the safety of chemicals.

"I think this is really taking action. I was very surprised. I did not expect such a strong position," Director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at Johns Hopkins Dr. Thomas Hartung told NPR. Hartung's center received one of the EPA grants to develop alternative methods for assessing the impact of chemicals on the brain.

The announcement saw animal rights and environmental groups come down on opposite sides.

Representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the White Coat Waste Project and the Humane Society of the United States all attended the press conference, according to Science Magazine.

"PETA is celebrating the EPA's decision to protect animals certainly—but also humans and the environment—by switching from cruel and scientifically flawed animal tests in favor of modern, non-animal testing methods," Dr. Amy Clippinger, director of PETA's Regulatory Testing Department, said in an EPA press release. "PETA will be helping regulatory agencies and companies switch to efficient and effective, non-animal testing approaches and working toward a day when all animal tests are only found in history books."

But the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) opposed the move and questioned Wheeler's motives, suggesting that the decision was more about saving chemical companies money than protecting animals.

"Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals — and protect human health," Jennifer Sass, senior scientist for the NRDC's Healthy People and Thriving Communities program, said in a statement reported by The Washington Post. "Once again, the Trump administration appears to be working on behalf of the chemical industry and not the public. Congress should bar the agency from blindfolding itself."

On Tuesday, Wheeler said he was not lobbied by chemical companies before making the decision. Instead, he said it had long been an important issue to him. He wrote an op-ed for his college newspaper on the need to reduce animal testing in 1987, he said.

"I didn't think we were that far away from banning animal testing then," Wheeler said, as NPR reported. "Part of why I'm doing this today is because it's been 30 years and we haven't made enough progress."

However, EPA communications uncovered by The Intercept in July showed that the agency did communicate with chemical companies including Dow about alternatives to animal testing, which companies find expensive and time-consuming. Alternative testing methods include computer modelling and tests on cells. But some scientists say these methods are not effective enough.

"If you exclusively depend on in vitro toxicology or mathematical modeling, you're going to miss all the different interactions that happen in a physiological system — whether in rat, mouse, human, or a fetus. You simply cannot replicate that," University of Massachusetts Amherst biologist Thomas Zoeller told The Intercept. "EPA is well aware that these cells don't replicate human metabolism. So when it comes to bioactivation, they're going to miss all that — and they know that."

However, there has been a bipartisan push to reduce the use of animal testing. The Toxic Substances Control Act was amended during the Obama era to mandate that the EPA conduct fewer tests on animals, The Washington Post reported.

Ann Bartuska, vice president for land, water and nature at nonprofit Resources for the Future and a former U.S. Department of Agriculture deputy undersecretary, told Science Magazine that she thought that the EPA had given itself enough time to develop new testing methods and had a science advisory board that would monitor its actions.

"It's a very major step that I think will have an impact on other federal agencies," she said. "It's right to be cautious, but something has to change."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.