It's PETA vs. greens in tiff over lab rats
- It's PETA vs. greens in tiff over lab rats
Traditional allies split on EPA animal tests
Glen Martin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Monday, July 22, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle.
A fight has erupted between environmental groups and the nation's
leading animal rights organization over the issue of laboratory
The dispute is the result of a media campaign by People for the
Ethical Treatment of Animals against three mainstream environmental
groups: the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense
Council and Environmental Defense.
PETA has denounced the three organizations for their support of the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's use of laboratory animals to
test toxic compounds. Such tests are unnecessary, PETA claims, and
could be replaced with toxicology evaluations that don't use animals.
The animal rights organization has initiated a letter-writing
campaign against the three groups, taken out media ads urging people
to stop donating money to them and created a "Mean Greenies" Web site
accusing the groups of "greenwashing" their support of animal testing.
Among the items on the site is a "report card" that evaluates
environmental groups on the animal testing issue. Of the 12 groups
tested, only the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense
Council and Environmental Defense got failing marks. Several other
groups got grades of D or C-.
The dispute highlights a widening gap between traditional allies.
"We're distressed because we thought of ourselves on the same side,"
said Gina Solomon, a senior scientist and physician with the Natural
Resources Defense Council.
"We both fight for animal welfare," said Solomon. "We're both
activist organizations trying to make the world a better place. We're
sad to be on opposite sides on this, but we're convinced PETA is on
the wrong side."
The spat started when the environmental groups filed a lawsuit
against the EPA in 1999 to force it to stick to established deadlines
on pesticide assessment and the evaluation of "endocrine disruptors,"
chemicals that can inhibit fetal development.
Such tests typically involve laboratory animals, and PETA
subsequently filed a counter suit in federal court to delay the
procedures. That case was dismissed, and the EPA is proceeding with
the chemical evaluations.
VALUE OF TESTS QUESTIONED
PETA says the tests approved by the EPA will result in the death of
many animals -- mainly laboratory rats and mice -- but will not
necessarily yield pertinent information on the toxicity of the target
chemicals on humans.
"The way these three environmental groups approach this issue is to
immerse themselves in a morass of useless data (from animal tests)
that clearly don't accomplish what they should accomplish," said
Jessica Sandler, the federal agency liaison for PETA.
"The endocrine disruptor screening program (employed by EPA and
supported by the three groups) will look at thousands of chemicals
and will potentially require killing millions of animals" Sandler
said. "But these tests have never shown to be relevant to human
health. Not a single animal test has gone through a validation
process (to demonstrate relevance) to human health."
But the EPA and the environmental groups say that nonanimal tests are
simply inferior to animal tests in most situations, and that
eschewing the use of lab animals would pose grave risks to the
environment and the human beings and wildlife inhabiting it.
"We're greatly concerned that PETA is working directly against
environmental and human health goals in their campaign," said
Solomon. "Basically, the only alternatives to this (animal) testing
program are ignorance of toxic chemicals or the de facto testing of
those chemicals in the real world environment.
"If PETA gets its way, people and wild animals will be the guinea
pigs. We would prefer that a small number of lab rats are used to
save the rest of us. We see targeted animal testing as a key
component of animal and environmental protection."
SEARCHING FOR ALTERNATIVES
Richard Liroff, the policy director for the wildlife and contaminants
program for the World Wildlife Fund, said that good, reliable
nonanimal tests are unavailable for many protocols.
"All of us want to see more nonanimal tests," Liroff said. "All of us
want to reduce the number of laboratory animals used for tests.
Ultimately we'll get there. But when you're looking for the
developmental effects of hormone- disrupting chemicals, for example,
you need to see what the effect is in the entire organism."
Sandler countered that reliable nonanimal tests do exist for some
evaluations, but claimed they are met with resistance in the United
"To cite a particular case, the EPA is calling for a battery of
animal tests to evaluate chemicals for genetic toxicity," she said.
"We've found a nonanimal test required in several European countries
that is actually more sensitive than the animal tests. But the
(environmentalists) are fighting us on it."
EPA spokesman David Deegan said the agency was eager to develop
nonanimal tests and had earmarked $4 million for that purpose for the
current fiscal year.
"We're looking forward to the development of validated methodologies
as an alternative to animal testing," Deegan said. "But for us, the
emphasis must remain on 'validated.' Unfortunately for many issues
involving the health effects of specific chemicals, or airborne
toxics and toxic residues, there are no alternatives to animal
testing. Nothing else is accepted as valid."
Liroff said the conflict was rooted in an essential difference in
"We don't disagree with animal welfare, but we define our missions
differently," Liroff said. "The World Wildlife Fund focuses on
biodiversity protection, preserving species in the wild and
protecting entire ecosystems. PETA is pursuing an agenda that defines
animal welfare as the preservation of specific animals, including
laboratory and domestic animals."
Sandler sees the matter differently, saying the issue is as much a
matter of ethics as it is of scientific protocol and disparate
"We have a mutual interest with these environmental groups in getting
toxic chemicals out of the marketplace, but they believe there is a
species of animal called the 'laboratory animal,' and you can do
anything you want with them," she said. "There is no such species.
All animals suffer when you poison them."
E-mail Glen Martin at glenmartin@....
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"Live in peace with the animals. Animals bring love to our hearts,
and warmth to our souls."
"He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with
men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."