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The next FDA chief should follow Scott Gottlieb’s lead and end unnecessary animal testing

Scott Gottlieb, M.D.
 

Last month, following an undercover investigation that documented the treatment of dogs at a laboratory in Michigan, the Humane Society of the United States persuaded Corteva Agriscience, a major pesticide maker, to stop a pesticide test that they contracted the lab to conduct on beagles. The release of hidden camera footage shined a light on the cruelty of animal testing for a range of products, including pesticides, drugs and dental implants, and the misery these dogs face every day. The beagles were confined to cages, wounded from surgery and force-fed dangerous substances, often resulting in death.

Most Americans would be shocked to learn that this is just one example of the widespread, unnecessary testing and subsequent killing of animals that government regulators, including our own Food and Drug Administration, often direct companies to do. The beagles from the Corteva study were saved, but thousands of dogs continue to suffer in labs in the United States and around the world. The time is ripe for change.

Just after announcing his resignation as FDA commissioner, Scott Gottlieb acknowledged this problem and pledged to reduce reliance on animals used for testing conducted by the agency’s scientists, as well as testing conducted by the industry. During an event at the Brookings Institute, Mr. Gottlieb said, “I think when animals are entrusted to our care and when we’re conducting experiments under our stewardship or directing the conduct of experiments, it needs to be done with great care and with a very clear understanding that there’s an overwhelming public health purpose to the experimentation.”

He also said, “I think across our portfolio we’ve looked for opportunities to use modern technology’s better predicted toxicology as a way to supplant the use of animals in studies. And that’s a long-term goal of the agency.”

As the leaders of the nation’s leading family of animal protection organizations (the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund) and a major pharmaceutical company (Vanda), we share the goal of limiting testing on animals, including dogs, to the extent possible. Forcing companies to conduct experiments that add no value to public safety or scientific understanding is not only unjustified but also unethical. We are united in urging the next FDA commissioner to put Gottlieb’s words into action and leverage the revolutionary technological advances in drug development to quickly reduce the needless sacrifice of animals.

Testing on dogs for FDA approval of a drug isn’t explicitly required under federal law, but regulators at the agency do sometimes request that companies carry out dog studies as a condition of getting their drug approved, despite scientific evidence that dog studies do not provide additional useful information to ensure human safety.  It is time to ask why. Gottlieb’s successor need not look further than other government agencies that have already taken concrete steps to end or reduce animal testing.

In 2007, the Environmental Protection Agency abolished its blanket requirement to conduct 12-month dog studies as part of pesticide registration. EPA no longer requires one-year toxicity studies in dogs other than on an exceptional basis. EPA based its decision on existing scientific literature and its own studies, concluding that longer-term toxicity testing in dogs does not provide essential information.

Earlier this month, following pressure by lawmakers and White Coat Waste Project, the USDA announced it will stop using cats as test subjects in food safety research. Since 1982, USDA had been feeding the meat of dogs and cats to research subjects. More than 3,000 cats subjected to this research had been killed before the agency announced an end to the project.

Confirming the safety of FDA-regulated products before they are sold to consumers is essential, but we can achieve that goal without the widespread testing of animals taking place today. As alluded to by former commissioner Gottlieb, it is striking that over the past two decades, advances in technology have revolutionized drug development and toxicity testing, yet the FDA has not revisited its approach to animal toxicity studies. The FDA’s reliance on animal data is outmoded and outdated. We call on other companies, animal advocacy groups and the general public to join us in urging the incoming commissioner to make reducing, refining and replacing animal testing a top priority for the agency.

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