By Karin Brulliard

The Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday a plan to dramatically reduce its reliance on animal testing to assess the dangers of chemicals, pledging to end nearly all experiments on mammals by 2035.

A directive from EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler says the agency will scale back requests for and funding of mammal studies by 30% by 2025. After 2035, any such tests will require the approval of the agency’s administrator.

The memo also commits $4.25 million in grants to five universities including Oregon State University for developing alternative experiments that “will minimize and hopefully eliminate the need for animal testing,” Wheeler told reporters.

Wheeler signed the directive while flanked by representatives of animal protection groups that have long campaigned against animal testing. Public health and environmental groups expressed concern about the change.

Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who has championed the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations, described the subject as one of personal importance to him. Wheeler’s staff gave reporters copies of a 1987 column he’d written for his college newspaper that called for decreasing animal testing.

“There are a lot of alternatives between computer modeling to in vitro testing that we can use to replace animal testing,” Wheeler said Tuesday. “Oftentimes we find that the animal testing … has perhaps misled us on the science, and there are better alternatives for testing the impacts of chemicals on people.”

The EPA’s move comes as Congress is increasing its scrutiny of federal agencies over animal tests.

In April, the Department of Agriculture ended controversial experiments on cats. In 2018, the Food and Drug Administration halted a nicotine study on squirrel monkeys, and Congress passed legislation prohibiting most uses of dogs in medical research at the Department of Veterans Affairs. VA has since reduced but declined to eliminate the tests, and the agency’s inspector general is now investigating the experiments at the urging of lawmakers.

The EPA performs tests on animals and in some cases requires such tests from chemical companies. Agency labs currently use as many as 20,000 rabbits, mice, fish and rats each year, according to Justin Goodman, vice president of advocacy and public policy for the White Coat Waste Project, a three-year-old organization that has helped galvanize bipartisan opposition to federally funded animal testing.