PETA attacks green groups for supporting animal testing

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Animal activists face green groups

PETA challenges tests to determine safety of pesticides, chemicals

By Joan Lowy / Scripps Howard News Service
 
  WASHINGTON -- Animal-rights activists have accused several leading environmental groups of insensitivity and cruelty to animals because they support federal efforts to test the toxic effects of thousands of industrial chemicals and pesticides on laboratory animals.

  The bitter feud involves three Environmental Protection Agency chemical-testing programs created in large part because of pressure from environmental groups. Environmentalists complain that the government knows relatively little about the safety of tens of thousands of man-made chemicals that are polluting the environment and possibly damaging the health of people and wildlife.

  Animal-rights proponents, who might otherwise be regarded as natural allies to environmentalists, are passionately opposed to the testing programs, claiming they will result in the needless suffering and deaths of millions of lab animals.

  They have joined the pesticide industry in court in trying to block one testing program from going forward and have threatened to sue the EPA over a second testing program.

  One group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has launched a Web site, http://www.meangreenies.com, attacking three well-known environmental groups -- the Natural Resources Defense Council, the World Wildlife Fund and Environmental Defense -- for backing the use of lab animals.

  PETA also took out newspaper ads in San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., asking donors to the three groups to switch their contributions to organizations that oppose animal testing.

  "We've tried to discuss what we think are critical issues with these environmental groups and have had obstacles erected at every turn in our effort to reduce the amount of animal suffering that these programs stand for," said Jessica Sadler, federal liaison for PETA.

  "The fact is that EPA kills more animals in chemical toxicity tests than any other federal agency and they still have not banned a single toxic industrial chemical in more than a decade."

  Environmentalists say they support using nonanimal tests where possible, but that some lab animals may have to be sacrificed to reduce or eliminate the use of dangerous chemicals.

  "Although there are certain moral qualms about animal testing, some people argue that those moral qualms are outweighed by the need to come to some conclusion about the impacts that are happening to people and animals out in the real world that we haven't even been studying until now," said Dr. Ted Schettler of the Science and Environmental Health Network, a scientific think tank for the environmental movement.

  Animal-rights activists contend that most animal tests could be eliminated by substituting computer modeling and test-tube methods or through greater scrutiny of scientific data. Federal regulators, industry scientists and environmentalists disagree.

  "The state of the science at present is that most of these studies are done using animals," said Charles Auer, director of EPA's chemical control division. "In general, there is not an acceptable alternative to the animal test at present. This is a view that is held not just in the United States, but in Europe and elsewhere."
 
Big test begins soon

  The largest of the three programs is EPA's Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, which is scheduled to begin next year. The program was authorized by Congress in 1996 but has been bogged down by scientific uncertainties and disputes between the chemical industry and environmentalists over how tests should be conducted.

  The program is the first major government effort to determine which chemicals in commercial use can disrupt the body's hormones and the glands that produce them, particularly in the developing fetus.

  Studies have found that certain chemicals, even at very low levels of exposure, can hinder the proper development of male sex organs and interfere with normal sexual development. Disturbing human health trends that some scientists believe may be connected to hormone-disrupting chemicals include increases in breast and testicular cancer, increases in birth defects in the reproductive organs of male infants, dramatic declines in sperm counts among men in industrialized countries, earlier puberty in girls and increases in developmental disorders.

  There are 88,000 chemicals that have been introduced into the environment since the rise of the petrochemical industry after World War II, although only 2,800 are produced in volumes of more than 1 million pounds per year. Virtually none have been tested for their hormone-disrupting potential to the degree proposed under the EPA program.

  Many of the tests used in the program won't require animals, but some chemicals -- no one knows how many -- probably will be tested using animals. Animals-rights proponents estimate that between 600,000 and 1.2 million laboratory animals, mostly rats and mice, will be killed for every 1,000 chemicals tested under the endocrine-disruptor program.

  Environmentalists say those estimates are exaggerated.

  "I think those numbers are ridiculous," said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Most chemicals will be prescreened out and won't even be tested in animals. Only a relatively small number of chemicals will test positive. Those will be the ones that will require a large number of animal tests."
 
Europe pressured

  The controversy is not limited to the United States. Last year, animal-rights activists -- including the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and PETA -- launched a campaign protesting European Commission plans to test the safety of thousands of industrial chemicals, saying it would mean millions of new animal experiments.

  This month, Germany became the first European Union country to constitutionally guarantee animal rights, which could curtail animal testing. Ten years ago, Switzerland passed a constitutional amendment recognizing animals as beings and not things.

  Both sides have accused each other of playing into the hands of the chemical industry.

  Animal-rights proponents, however, said chemical manufacturers are happy to cite animal studies that support the safety of particular chemicals even while they challenge the validity of other animal studies whose results raise doubts about chemical safety.
 
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