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Countries Unite to Reduce Animal Use in Product Toxicity Testing

By Robin Mackar
May 2009

Participants gathered for a group photo. Shown left to right are Hajime Kojima, Birnbaum, Anklam, Stokes, in uniform, Wind and Blakey.
Participants gathered for a group photo. Shown left to right are Hajime Kojima, Birnbaum, Anklam, Stokes, in uniform, Wind and Blakey. (Photo courtesy of NIH)

Representatives from four international agencies, including the director of the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP), signed a memorandum of cooperation (  Download Adobe Reader (128KB) on April 27 that could reduce the number of animals required for consumer product safety testing worldwide. The agreement between the United States, Canada, Japan and the European Union will yield globally coordinated scientific recommendations on alternative toxicity testing methods that should speed their adoption in each of these countries, thus reducing the number of animals needed for product safety testing.

“Signing this international agreement demonstrates our commitment to finding and advancing alternatives to animal testing,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the NTP and NIEHS. “This agreement will help us achieve greater efficiency by avoiding duplication of effort and allowing us to leverage limited resources.”

Birnbaum signed as the U.S. representative on behalf of the NTP Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM), one of the national validation organizations participating in the agreement. Others who signed include Elke Anklam, Ph.D., for the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) ( NIEHS, David Blakey, D.Phil., for the Environmental Health Science and Research Bureau within Health Canada ( NIEHS, and Masahiro Nishijima, Ph.D. for the Japanese Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (JaCVAM) (  Download Adobe Reader (1.15MB).

The agreement promotes enhanced international cooperation and coordination on the scientific validation of non- and reduced-animal toxicity testing methods. If the toxicity testing methods are shown to be reproducible based on strong scientific information, and able to accurately identify product related health hazards, the tests are more readily accepted by regulatory agencies.

“The memorandum covers three critical areas of test method evaluation: validation studies, independent scientific peer review meetings and reports, and development of test method recommendations for regulatory consideration,” said Marilyn Wind, Ph.D., chair of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) and a scientist at the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

“This international cooperation will benefit both people and animals,” said William Stokes, D.V.M., director of NICEATM and executive director of ICCVAM. Stokes is also an assistant surgeon general in the U.S. Public Health Service. “The cooperation will serve an important role in translating research advances into more effective public health prevention tools. It will speed the adoption of new test methods based on advances in science and technology that will provide more accurate predictions of safety or hazard. Animal welfare will also be improved by the national and international acceptance of alternative test methods that reduce, refine, and replace the use of animals.”

Federal agencies are committed to the welfare of animals used in research. All animals used in federally-funded research are protected by laws, regulations and policies to ensure they are used in the smallest number possible and with the greatest commitment to their comfort. ICCVAM is working to promote the development and validation of alternative test methods. Alternative test methods are those that accomplish one or more of the 3Rs - reducing the number of animals used in testing, or refining procedures so animals experience less pain and distress, or replacing animals with non-animal systems.

(Robin Mackar is the News Director in the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison and a regular contributor to the Environmental Factor.)

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