In The US, Animal Testing Could Be A Thing Of The Past By 2035

Image by Melanie DeFazio / Stocksy

In a move that has animal welfare activists cheering, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will stop requiring animal testing on the chemicals it oversees by 2035.

Though we don't know exact numbers, it's estimated that hundreds of thousands of animals are killed every year to test chemicals and pesticides regulated by the EPA. The Agency has previously passed legislation to cut back on animal testing where appropriate, but this is its most sweeping ban to date.

Ethical issues aside, some argue that animal testing is outdated (we've been doing it since Aristotle's time, after all), time-consuming, and sometimes inaccurate. The EPA hopes that its ban will help push the needle on more modern means of testing, such as organs-on-chips, which cultivate human cells on computer microchips, and EpiDerm, a bioengineered 3D model of human skin. Yep, science is wild.

In a memo released on Tuesday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler also announced the Agency will spend $4.25 million to support the development of high-tech testing methodologies like these. He calls their benefits "extensive," saying that they save animals and allow researchers to work more quickly and accurately.

As it stands now, there are more than 80,000 chemicals being used in the U.S.—many of which have never undergone toxicity testing. In 2016, the EPA was tasked with testing all of them for human health concerns—but on a pretty loose timeline. The EPA only has to review a minimum of 20 chemicals at a time, and it has seven years to make any decisions about them.

It would be great if this ruling speeds up the process—but only if the technology it inspires is really accurate. "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," Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council points out to the New York Times.

The EPA seems optimistic that the 2035 deadline gives us enough time to nail non-animal testing techniques: "I really do think that with the lead time that we have in this—16 years before we completely eliminate animal testing—that we have enough time to come up with alternatives," Wheeler tells NPR.

It will be interesting to see if other agencies that test on animals, like the FDA, follow suit with an outright ban or take a slower approach. Regardless, for now we can all agree that saving animals is a good thing, as long as it doesn't put human health in jeopardy.

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