Big news for little friends: Congress seeks to limit animal testing

© Mark Baker
An updated Toxic Substances Control Act that could change the way chemicals are tested on animals has passed both the Senate and the House and is expected to be signed into law. Animal welfare advocates welcomed the news affecting millions of lab animals.

An overhaul to the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 may signal the end of testing chemicals and cosmetics on live animals. While the legislation is by no means expansive, animal welfare groups believe that the precedent set could mark a shift away from using mice, rats, birds and fish as experiment subjects.

This is the first signal from Congress that it is a priority to move away from animal testing,” Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, told The Washington Post. “It’s a combination of growing moral concern for animals and a recognition that there’s a social cost to using animals, but also of these new scientific methods that are giving us options we never really had before.

Issues with animal testing are not only expressed in ethical terms. There are financial obstacles as well in preventing the killing and harming of animals.

We lack information on many chemicals and how they affect a diverse human population, because we rely too heavily on slow, unreliable and expensive animal tests,” Kristie Sullivan, vice president of toxicology for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, said in a statement, adding, “Because information obtained on chemicals will be human-relevant, products Americans use will be safer.

David Andrews, senior scientist for the Environment Working Group, clarified that the legislation “doesn’t call for an outright ban,according to Wired. The technology required to completely ban animal testing is not readily available – but it is in the works.

In fact, there is a growing industry that seeks to replace using live animals in different fields. Wired reported that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is already working on a human-on-a-chip that could mimic or grow an entire body in miniature. Not to be confused with growing tiny people, the team is working on creating a system that connects the brain, the peripheral nervous system, the blood-brain barrier and the heart.

An alternative to animal testing may even be available to veterinary school students, who soon may practice operating on a synthetic cadaver dog. The synthetic dog was created by SynDaver Labs and has lifelike tissue and functioning bodily systems that can simulate diseases, illnesses and even simulate the all too common medical issue facing dogs: eating a sock.

While a fake dead dog may sound like an actual nightmare, it could mark the end of terminal surgery labs in vet schools. Terminal surgeries are performed on dogs that are often chosen from the kill list at animal shelters and are euthanized when the procedure is over, activist network Care2 reported.

While this is one small step towards banning the use of animal testing, more extreme measures are less likely to pass.

Representative Martha McSally (R-Arizona) has introduced HR 2858, a bill that would prohibit testing cosmetics on animals. While it may be a more difficult sell, the European Union, India and Israel have banned cosmetics testing on animals. In addition, many companies in the US have voluntarily stopped using these tests.