Public forum highlights progress on replacing animals used in safety testing
By Catherine Sprankle
Members of the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) discussed alternatives for chemical and product safety testing during a May 27 public forum at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Participants discussed subjects such as transparency in industry’s reporting of animal use, training for regulators on available nonanimal methods and strategies, and communication with the public on the science behind nonanimal methods.
Twelve public participants and nearly 100 webcast viewers, representing interest groups from industry, academia, and animal welfare organizations, joined 15 committee members at the event. The National Toxicology Program Interagency Center for the Evaluation of Alternative Toxicological Methods (NICEATM) organized the meeting (see sidebar).
Agencies highlight ongoing activities
ICCVAM co-chair Anna Lowit, Ph.D., from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reviewed the committee’s current priority areas and highlighted progress in development of a nonanimal testing strategy to identify skin sensitizers.
Lowit also described EPA’s work with pesticide manufacturers to implement alternative tests or waive tests completely. Referring to the nearly 600 test waivers granted over the last four years, Lowit noted, “We estimate that [these account for] upwards of 50,000 animals not used and over $100 million to industry saved.”
In his summary of NIEHS activities, ICCVAM representative Nigel Walker, Ph.D., cited the West Virginia chemical spill as an example of how nonanimal methods can speed the assessment of health hazards presented by a complicated environmental event. “This is not something where we can take 10 years and [evaluate chemical toxicity] robustly over a long period of time,” he said. “People want an answer relatively quickly, to allay any fears and determine whether the screening level was appropriate.”
Stakeholders address education and tracking progress
Some public comments focused on a request by ICCVAM for suggestions on how to track progress towards replacement, reduction, and refinement of animal use. An online viewer noted that current U.S. law does not require collection of data on use of rats and mice and asked if there was potential for that to change. Other commenters expressed concern about how to assure the public that nonanimal methods would adequately protect public health.
There were also questions about training and education opportunities for both potential users of new test methods and regulators evaluating test submissions, which allowed representatives of several agencies to highlight training and educational resources currently available.
Lowit invited stakeholders to continue to engage ICCVAM both in meetings and through more informal interactions.
Slides from the event and a recording of the webcast are available on the NTP website. ICCVAM will provide another update in September at the annual meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Alternative Toxicological Methods.
(Catherine Sprankle is a communications specialist at ILS, the contractor supporting NICEATM.)