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June 2, 2008

Q&A: Animal Testing of Pesticides and Biocides

Humane Society International

Q: What types of products are considered pesticides?

A: A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for use in preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating living organisms considered to be “pests.” Common examples include weed-killers (herbicides), bug spray (insecticides), rat poison (rodenticides), bird poison (avicides), fumigants (nematocides), and even “germ-killing” soaps and cleaning products (antimicrobials). Some countries distinguish between pesticides intended for use on food crops (plant protection products) and those not intended primarily for agricultural use (biocides).

Q: How are animals used for pesticide safety testing?

A: Regulations in most developed countries require that all pesticide and biocide products and their raw ingredients be individually safety tested, and list more than two-dozen animal tests that companies may be required to conduct. Examples include skin and eye irritation tests, behavioral studies in chemically-poisoned animals and their offspring, and even the widely condemned “lethal dose” tests, in which animals are forced to swallow or inhale massive amounts of a test substance to determine the dose that causes death. Tests are conducted using rodents, rabbits, birds, fish—even dogs —and certain types of tests consume hundreds or thousands of animals at a time. In total, as many as 12,000 animals may be killed in safety testing of just one pesticide chemical.

Q: Are animals used in testing given pain relief or other protections?

A: No, pain relief is not normally provided. Additionally, in some countries (e.g. the United States) laboratory-bred rats and mice and non-mammalian species are not listed or protected under the federal law that establishes standards for animals used in experiments. The situation is even more grim in developing countries that do not have any legislation governing the care and use of animals in laboratories.

Q: Besides animal welfare, are there other arguments against testing on animals?

A: Yes, there are a number of points to consider. Firstly, most animal tests have never been properly validated to demonstrate their relevance to humans, and as a result may under- or over-estimate real-world hazards to people. For example, both rat and rabbit tests failed to predict the birth defect-causing properties of PCBs, industrial solvents and many drugs, while cancer tests in rats and mice failed to detect the hazards of asbestos, benzene, cigarette smoke and many other substances—delaying consumer and worker protection measures by decades in some cases.

Animal tests are also quite time- and resource-intensive and inefficient. For example, to evaluate the cancer-causing potential of a single pesticide chemical in a standard rat and mouse study test takes up to 5 years, 800 animals and US$4 million. For the same price and without any use of animals, as many as 350 chemicals could be tested in less than a week in 200 different cell tests using modern robotics and the results would be directly relevant to humans instead of other animals.

Q: What are some practical alternatives to animal testing?

A: More than two-dozen animal replacement, reduction and refinement methods and testing strategies have been endorsed as scientifically validated by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods and its counterparts worldwide. Additionally, animal use in pesticide testing could be reduced dramatically simply through the elimination of redundant testing requirements such as repeating the same test on two different species. Animal numbers could be significantly reduced by no longer requiring cancer tests on both rats and mice, birth defect studies using both rats and rabbits, or 90-day repeated-dosing studies using both rats and dogs, or requiring the repetition of certain tests by as many as three different exposure routes (force-feeding, forced inhalation, and application to the animals’ skin). Moving away from rigid “check-the-box ” lists of animal tests in favor of flexible testing strategies that allow unnecessary tests to be avoided, would also have a positive impact.

Q: What is HSI doing to spare animals from pesticide testing?

A: Often there can be an unnecessary delay of many months or even years from the time an alternative test method is developed to when it can actually be used in the lab to start replacing animals. HSI scientists and policy experts are working with biocide and pesticide regulators worldwide to reduce this time delay so that animal use in pesticide testing can be reduced and replaced more quickly. However, this approach is just the first step towards our ultimate goal of ending animal testing forever. To this end, we have built unprecedented partnerships with scientists from universities, private companies and government agencies worldwide to support and push for a totally new—“21st century”—approach to safety testing that combines ultra-fast cell tests and sophisticated computer models to deliver results in hours instead of months or even years for some animal tests.

Q: How can I help?

A: You can reduce your pesticide exposure by purchasing organic produce and avoiding meat, dairy and other animal products, which are often contaminated with pesticide and other unappetizing residues. There are also many kinder/non-toxic alternatives to pesticides for safe and effective lawn and garden care. Also, remember that any product that claims to “kill germs” is regarded as a pesticide, and is subject to substantially more animal testing than equivalent soaps and cleaning products that simply don’t advertise their antibacterial properties. For assistance in identifying cruelty-free products, visit LeapingBunny.org.

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