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Is an abandonment of the phase-out imminent?

For the safety testing of chemicals such as pesticides, animal experiments are still conducted, even though the results of these experiments can hardly be transferred to humans. In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) became an international pioneer on the path to animal testing-free research with a concrete plan to phase out such experiments on mammals. Now, the EPA is backtracking and overturning the planned ban set for 2035. The German organization Doctors Against Animal Experiments is concerned that this step could lead to a delay in the development towards consistently animal-free research and development. At the same time, the organization is confident that the paradigm shift cannot be stopped. Leading industrial companies are already working towards it today.

In 2019, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented a directive stipulating that toxicity tests on mammals should be replaced by more reliable, animal-free methods by 2035. This plan was motivated by the acknowledgment that such animal-free methods are not only faster and more cost-effective but also lead to at least equivalent or even superior predictions of toxicity (1). To expedite this urgently needed transition from animal testing to more suitable animal-free methods, a 30% reduction in funding for animal experiments was planned for the year 2025. By 2035, such experiments were intended to be completely phased out. With this specific roadmap to phase out animal experiments, the USA became a pioneer, sending a significant signal.

According to a report recently published in Science, this concrete phasing out strategy is now history (2). Both deadlines have been eliminated: the planned reallocation of funding for 2025 and the ban on toxicity tests on mammals for 2035. Although the EPA, according to the report, still aims to advance the development of animal-free testing methods and strives for the complete abolition of animal experiments, Andrew Wheeler - who played a significant role in the EPA's exit plan as its former chairman - fears that without concrete deadlines, nothing will change.

"We are concerned by this development and worry that it will unnecessarily delay the inevitable phase out of animal testing," Dr. Johanna Walter, Scientific Advisor at Doctors Against Animal Experiments says. "While we regret that the EPA's reversal sends a signal that may please the international animal testing lobby, we are confident that the phasing out of animal testing will still succeed. The driving force behind this will no longer be an agency but the industry, which is in urgent need of more cost-effective and, above all, more meaningful methods than animal experiments," Walter continues.

In 2019, critics accused Wheeler of developing the phasing out plan primarily in the interest of the chemical industry, which views animal testing as too time- and cost-intensive (2). Indeed, the industry wishes to finally dispense with the highly expensive and, above all, less informative method of animal experimentation. This is especially evident in the recent developments in the pharmaceutical industry, which significantly promotes the use of human-relevant methods in the development of new drugs. Belén Garijo, CEO of Merck, expects that the development of new drugs will be conducted without animal testing in just a few years (3), and the pharmaceutical company Roche has established its own institute to develop animal-free methods (4).

"These companies do not align their research towards animal-free methods out of love for animals, but for economic reasons. Animal-free methods are more cost-effective, faster, more reliable, and, above all, more informative than animal experiments. This awareness will continue to prevail and will not be halted by the removal of the two deadlines from the EPA's plans," Walter is confident.