The U.S. is the only industrialized nation still using chimpanzees on a large scale for invasive experiments — which sticks in animal activists’ craws. More than 900 live in laboratories — most are warehoused, some for 50 years. The bipartisan Great Ape Protection & Cost Savings Act working its way through Congress would prohibit invasive research on chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos and ban breeding them for research.
In September 2010, the European Union passed legislation that 27 member EU nations must find and use alternate research methods to reduce animals’ pain by the end of 2012. It dramatically limits the use of primates, although a few monkeys will still be used in the search for new drugs for neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. The legislation includes a “safeguard clause” allowing member states to override the ban in extremis – say an “unexpected outbreak” of a life-threatening illness, or if disease were to threaten the species’ own survival.
Research on great apes was banned in the U.K. in 1998 on ethical grounds. Now, the U.K. has until January 2013 to decide whether to adopt that “safeguard clause” as the EU directive becomes law there.
In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health announced in December it would scale back biomedical research using chimps.
At this week’s Society of Toxicology Conference in San Francisco, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and beauty product giant L’Oreal revealed plans for an unprecedented collaboration in the effort to find alternatives to animal-based toxicity tests to prove chemical safety. L’Oreal is providing the EPA with $1.2 million to test 20 chemicals with ToxCast, its computational chemical toxicity forecaster.
“Both consumers and governments want to move away from animal testing,” says Jared Blumenfeld, the U.S. EPA administrator for the Pacific Southwest. David Dix, director of the EPA’s National Center for Computational Toxicology, conceded that it is difficult to predict when or even if the day could ever come when animal testing for toxicology ends, but reduction is a viable goal.
Animal Legal Defense Fund founder and chief counsel Joyce Tischler applauded the move. “It sends a message of hope for a brighter future. Non-animal (in vitro) tests will produce more reliable results for less money and in less time.”