By JOHN RICHARD SCHROCK
The recent massive federal spending bill just passed by the current administration mandates several federal government agencies proceed to shut down animal experimentation in the next few years.
The National Institutes of Health is required to report back for the next fiscal year on “...nonhuman primate use and efforts to reduce such research use specifically, an assessment of research alternatives, including benefits and limitations of such alternatives, cost estimates, and areas of further need for innovative alternatives. In the fiscal year 2021, the agreement requests NIH include a discussion of research alternatives in use and those in development.”
In the Veteran Affairs branch: “Not later than December 31, 2020, the Secretary shall submit to such Committees a plan under which the Secretary will eliminate or reduce the research conducted using canines, felines, or non-human primates by not later than five years after the date of the enactment of this Act.”
The Food and Drug Administration likewise is required to: “...deliver a report within 12 months of enactment of this Act that outlines a strategy, including a detailed timeline, for the reduction and replacement of nonhuman primates in FDA intramural testing and research with suitable alternative models.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is required to provide extensive records of all inspections and related documents on its website. In the past, these records have sometimes been used by animal rights groups to target protests, harass researchers and in some cases, directed animal rights extremists to destroy facilities.
These actions follow close on the heels of Environmental Protection Agency director Andrew Wheeler’s proclamation that the E.P.A. would reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mammals in toxicity tests by 2035. The basis for that retreat from science is animal rightists' claim that computer simulations and cell culture or “in vitro” methods can fully achieve the same results.
This nonsense comes not from scientists but from the White Coat Waste Project (WCW), an animal rights group that lobbied Washington lawmakers to introduce the above language, along with the Humane Society of the U.S. In December 2019, Justin Goodman, vice president of WCW, told the journal Science that “This is the first time in history, to our knowledge, that Congress has set hard deadlines for the elimination and reduction of experiments on dogs, cats, and primates. The science has been there, the public sentiment has been there, and now there’s the political will to make these things happen.”
To the contrary, science is nowhere near replacing the utter complexity of human and animal physiology with simplistic computer simulations and tissue cultures. The need for actual animal models is clearly understood in most of Europe and Asia where the biology education of citizens would make such a statement ludicrous.
Testing the effects of new drugs requires complex organisms because new pharmaceuticals often have adverse effects on non-target organs. And new drugs are often metabolized by some organs into additional chemicals that may or may not harm us. No computer programs or tissue cultures come close to being able to replace the need for complex animal models.
But White Coat Waste wants to go further to eliminate all animal use. Its next step is to get Congress to pass an “After Act” to force every federal agency to retire all research animals.
These regulations would have been rejected in pre-World War II America where the majority of Americans were intimately involved in farming, ranching or the food industry. But today, with less than one percent of Americans working in agriculture and understanding animals, and our U.S. science curriculum weak, we now risk shutting down animal research critical in biological and medical research.
Despite the last three years of federal hissy fits over Europe and Asia supposedly stealing American research, this federal legislation is now heading down a path that will drive medical research involving animal models to foreign countries. And the United States will have no alternative to relying on advances in science results coming from other countries.
John Richard Schrock has trained biology teachers for more than 30 years in Kansas. He also has lectured at 27 universities in 20 trips to China. He holds the distinction of “Faculty Emeritus” at Emporia State University.