The Environmental Protection Agency plans to phase out almost all studies using animals by 2035, a move that public health groups say will make it more difficult to regulate chemicals.
“The memo will direct the agency to aggressively reduce animal testing,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said Tuesday in Washington, D.C.
“This is an effort that the agency will undertake over the next 16 years to improve the science that we use for our scientific decisions” and eventually eliminate the use of animals in the agency’s tests, he said.
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After 2035, any requests for using mammals like mice, rats, guinea pigs and rabbits in studies will require approval from the EPA administrator on a case-by-case basis.
Under the directive Wheeler signed Tuesday, the agency plans to reduce requests for and funding of mammal studies by 30% by 2025.
While these dates extend past Wheeler’s tenure at EPA, he said he expects the agency’s career staff to continue working toward the goal.
He said the move away from animal testing is a “longstanding personal belief,” which he credited to his family, including his sisters, one of whom is a zoologist and the other a veterinarian.
EPA passed out to press a commentary Wheeler wrote as a college student in a 1987 edition of “The Observer,” the student newspaper of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
“While some animal research is necessary, much of it is needless or can be accomplished using alternatives,” Wheeler wrote. The research that requires animal testing, he wrote, includes studies that examine cures for human illnesses and injuries.
Animal rights groups cheered the directive.
“PETA is celebrating the EPA’s decision to protect animals certianly – but also humans and the environment – by switching from cruel and scientifically flawed animals test in favor of modern, non-animal testing methods,” Amy Clippinger, director of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ regulatory testing department, said in a statement.
Other methods of chemical tests include computer modeling and testing on cells.
Public health groups, on the other hand, said that testing on animals provides critical information on how chemicals could affect humans.
“EPA is eliminating tools that lay the groundwork for protecting the public from dangers like chlorpyrifos, formaldehyde and PFAS,” Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Phasing out foundational scientific testing methods can make it much harder to identify toxic chemicals – and protect human health.”
When asked about criticisms from the groups, Wheeler said: “They have 16 years to get on board, and I hope they do.”