By Troy Seidle, director of
Research and Toxicology for Humane Society International
The use of animals in experimentation has proven to be among the most
intractable issues faced by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane
Society International (HSI), and Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF).
Progress depends largely on developing superior non-animal methods to
animal-based procedures—no matter how inhumane or irrelevant such animal testing
may seem—and then ensuring that the new methods are used. Developing new
methods for the safety testing of chemicals and consumer products typically
faces two additional hurdles: formally demonstrating their effectiveness
(“validation”) and gaining their acceptance by regulatory authorities.
An important barometer of progress in this arena is the World Congresses on
Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, which bring together the best
and brightest alternatives advocates and scientists from academic, corporate,
governmental, non-profit, and other sectors. The 7th World Congress was held
last week in Rome on the 50th anniversary of the modern movement to reduce, refine, and
ultimately replace experiments on animals, with more than 850 delegates from
across the globe.
Since the inception of the World Congresses in 1993, The HSUS has helped to
sponsor and organize these conferences, participate in their program, and use
the opportunity to bestow our Russell & Burch Award for outstanding
achievement in advancing alternative methods.
A recurring theme of this year’s World Congress was the 2007 call by the U.S.
National Research Council (NRC) for the science of safety testing to be given a
major face-lift. It is increasingly recognized that World War II-era animal
poisoning tests, in addition to being inhumane, are too expensive and
time-consuming to meet emerging regulatory mandates, such as the requirement in
Europe (and likely soon in the U.S. as well) to reassess the safety of tens of
thousands of widely used chemicals. The vision of “21st century” safety testing
proposed by the NRC would see animal tests replaced by robot-automated cellular
tests and sophisticated computer models.
Support for 21st century safety testing was evident throughout the 4-day
conference. An HSUS-led resolution inspired by the NRC
vision was endorsed by conferees from more than two-dozen countries. The framers
of the NRC vision—including The HSUS' vice president of Animal Research
Issues, Martin Stephens, Ph.D.—were presented with two awards at the
Moreover, high-level officials from North American, European and Asian
governments and corporations gave talks demonstrating an unprecedented level of
interest, and investment, in moving away from animal testing. For instance, the
European Commission and European Cosmetics Association announced the launch of a
more than $73 million-joint initiative to fund research to replace long-term
testing on animals—the single largest such funding program created to date.
The European Commission has also committed to fund a three-year HSI-driven
initiative called “AXLR8”, which aims to lay the groundwork in Europe for a move
to an animal-free approach to safety testing. At the same time, major consumer
product, chemical, and pharmaceutical companies have joined with The
HSUS/HSI/HSLF in a consortium to promote similar
work in the U.S.
These are exciting times for those wishing to relegate animal testing to the
history books. The challenges include ensuring that the modern vision of
animal-free safety testing is realized sooner rather than later, and that
similar approaches are developed for the larger field of animal use in