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Washington Post Exposes Government Failure to Replace Animal Testing; PCRM Scientists Quoted

It isn’t often that the controversy over animal testing makes the cover of a U.S. newspaper. But last month, The Washington Post gave front-page placement to a lengthy exposé of a U.S. government panel that has failed miserably at doing its job: reducing and replacing the use of animals in safety testing.

In his excellent article “In U.S., Few Alternatives To Testing On Animals,” reporter Gilbert M. Gaul dug into the scandal of the Interagency Coordinating Committee for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM). The article quoted PCRM scientific and policy adviser Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H., and senior director of toxicology and research Chad Sandusky, Ph.D., both of whom closely follow ICCVAM’s activities. 

Established in 1997, ICCVAM comprises representatives from 15 different government regulatory and research agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency. ICCVAM’s stated purpose is to “promote test methods that more accurately assess the safety or hazards of chemicals and products and that reduce, refine, and/or replace animal use.” 

Unfortunately, ICCVAM has gotten little done. In its 11 years of existence, the committee has validated only four nonanimal tests to use for testing the safety of various consumer products, chemicals, and medical products and devices. (These tests do not apply to medical research.) None of these completely replace the animal tests; some use fewer animals, and others require follow-up animal testing after certain results.

rabbitPCRM scientists have long acted as watchdogs over ICCVAM, closely following its work, attending its meetings and giving public and written comments on its plans. As Sullivan explained in the Post article, the center that administers ICCVAM’s work, the Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods, has little funding and few staffers. Agency representatives who sit on the committee are not necessarily interested in its mission and do their ICCVAM work in addition to their other work responsibilities.

In contrast, the group’s European counterpart, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), has approved 34 alternatives since its founding in 1991. As reported in the Post article, ECVAM has more than 60 employees and a budget of more than $25 million. It also has its own laboratories to conduct comparative research. Unlike ICCVAM, ECVAM seems genuinely interested in replacing animal tests with more effective and humane alternatives. Sullivan believes that some agencies use ICCVAM as a way to give lip service to the goal of reducing animal testing without actually making any changes.

Although PCRM and other watchdogs have suggested that ICCVAM simply approve the alternatives that ECVAM has already put through a rigorous validation process, ICCVAM inexplicably insists on doing its own evaluation. Several ICCVAM critics quoted in the Post article believe not only that ICCVAM isn’t just ineffectual but also that ICCVAM officials are actively resisting change.

Sullivan has seen this foot-dragging on many occasions. Last year, she watched an ICCVAM scientific review panel reject five perfectly good alternatives for a cruel rabbit test commonly used in the United States to test medical products for a certain type of fever-producing bacteria. Instead, ICCVAM called for more comparison tests. European scientists have been successfully using the alternatives for decades and had submitted the validation study data to ICCVAM in 2005. More than three years later, the full committee has yet to make a final decision.

Sullivan will be attending an upcoming ICCVAM meeting in North Carolina to keep the pressure on the committee.




Krisite Sullivan, M.P.H.


PCRM Online, May 2008

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