When considering a course of action, first ask yourself what impact your decision will have seven generations from now. This Native American philosophy forms the basis of Burlington-based Seventh Generation's name. Yet this company, which borrows a concept meant to protect present and future generations from harm, has actively promoted chemical-testing legislation that will protect neither humans nor the environment from unsafe chemicals and will result in tens of millions of animals being poisoned in unreliable laboratory experiments. If this legislation passes in its current form, no one will benefit.
The legislation would reform the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which desperately needs changes but not the ones Seventh Generation is advocating. To date, TSCA has been woefully inadequate in protecting the public from dangerous chemicals, largely because it relies heavily on the results of inconclusive animal tests. For the past several decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has been able to regulate only a handful of dangerous chemicals and to ban even fewer of them under TSCA. We agree with Seventh Generation that reform is necessary, but modernizing TSCA must also mean modernizing the testing methods that are used.
For the past 15 years, PETA's Regulatory Testing Division, with more scientists and toxicology experts than any other animal protection organization, has worked hard to reform the way in which chemicals are tested.
For example, while workers were dying of chromium and benzene poisoning and whole populations were affected by arsenic in drinking water, animals in laboratories failed to show the same effects, so protective regulations were delayed. Animal research was even used by the tobacco industry for decades to question the negative health effects suffered by humans and delay the now-accepted link between smoking and cancer. More recently, federal agencies have been unable to decide if and how to regulate BPA and phthalates because the animal test results are so contradictory.
Scientists from the National Academy of Sciences joined the effort to reform the way in which chemicals are tested and issued a pivotal report ("Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century") in 2007, calling for the use of a variety of non-animal testing methods in order to better protect public health and the environment from the dangers of harmful chemicals. These non-animal methods harness scientific advances in molecular and cell biology, genetics, computational power, and robotic testing systems that can test more chemicals in a single day than have been tested in the past 20 years using animals. These methods allow scientists to test mixtures of chemicals, assess chemical effects on vulnerable populations or life stages, and detect sensitive effects that animal tests cannot. They are already being used by the government and others to test chemical mixtures and assess harmful effects for thousands of chemicals.
PETA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) have repeatedly asked Seventh Generation to support legislative language requiring that non-animal testing methods be used as a first choice, as is the case in European law. This would mean using test methods that improve the efficiency, speed, and prediction of toxicity for humans while cutting costs and reducing animal suffering. The recommended language is critical in order to incorporate the new scientific methods that don't use animals and to drive further innovation. The company continually rebuffed our attempts to share information on modernizing chemical testing, recently going so far as to state that PCRM's efforts to minimize animal testing were "not really compatible" with Seventh Generation's position on chemical reform.
Neither Seventh Generation nor its coalition partners are experts in toxicity testing. Their advocacy of legislation that retains the same crude animal methods that have been used for centuries shows a profoundly simplistic view of biology that does not reflect 21st scientific knowledge and does not take into account either the sea-change that has occurred in our understanding of how biological processes work or the new testing methods that can quickly identify chemicals of concern.
It is critical that toxicity testing methods be updated along with reform of chemical legislation, rather than continuing to use the same animal tests that were developed centuries ago. Imagine if people still used an abacus rather than a calculator, or a carrier pigeon instead of text messaging.
Updating our chemical testing methods with more reliable, cutting-edge non-animal methods is of vital necessity for us, for the environment, and for the tens of millions of animals slated to be killed in chemical experiments.
There are signs that Seventh Generation is now listening. After PETA went public with its concerns and more than 50,000 angry customers contacted the company (in one week), Seventh Generation now claims that it will support reforms to minimize animal use. But actions speak louder than words and the company needs to publicly demonstrate that commitment.
We are simply asking Seventh Generation to advocate for good ethics and good science - both of which will certainly be fully appreciated seven generations from now.
Jessica Sandler, MHS, Senior Director of PETA's Regulatory Testing Division. Read more at: www.stopanimaltests.com.