Editorial: Facing the Challenge
New testing methods are astoundingly quick and accurate. Cellular tests can assess the acute toxicity of chemicals and drugs much more accurately than tests on rats or mice ever could. In-vitro tests can check whether a chemical will cause genetic damage–leading to birth defects or cancer–at a fraction of the cost of animal tests. They can show whether a compound will irritate the skin or damage the eye, all without using a single animal.
And yet many chemical and drug companies still use old, patently cruel, and grossly inaccurate animal tests. Why? Some favor testing methods that government regulators are familiar with, and that usually means older tests. Others prefer animal tests precisely because they are slow and difficult to interpret. Because when government programs call for testing or retesting a possibly toxic chemical, the last thing a manufacturer wants is a quick and accurate test that could get a suspect chemical pulled from the market. The fact is, many animal tests are slow and yield ambiguous results, which can delay new regulations for years.
What is the answer? It is essential that government regulators understand the power of newer test methods and that manufacturers be pushed to use them. PCRM’s toxicology and campaign staff does exactly that.
When it comes to the causes of illness, Americans have access to more information than ever before about how nutrition affects their health. Thousands of books and Web sites make the latest dietary guidance instantly available. But despite endless warnings about fat and cholesterol, North Americans continue to eat no fewer than one million animals per hour, and, collectively, we are more out of shape than ever. Our children have higher rates of obesity than any previous generation.
Why are so many people reluctant to change? Because they stick to foods that are familiar, because they imagine illness won’t happen to them, and because the cruelty to animals and damage to the environment caused by livestock operations are out of sight and out of mind.
So PCRM’s team of physicians, dietitians, and nutritionists put healthier diets to the test, publishing the results in peer-reviewed medical journals. They speak at medical conferences, work with governmental bodies, and design programs that reach the public to the broadest possible extent.
These challenges are enormous. Happily, we have a large and effective team, from the physicians and scientists who are our allies for a new kind of medical and scientific practice, to our many supporters teaching in schools, working for governmental reform, writing letters to the editor or to legislators, or supporting our work with contributions large or small. We begin a new year with a strong resolve to tackle the problems we face together and gratitude for our supporters who keep our work moving forward.
Neal D. Barnard, M.D.
President of PCRM