Gore should drop support for new animal testing

August 27, 1999|By Ingrid Newkirk

NORFOLK, Va. -- If Vice President Al Gore advocated killing rabbits to see if women were pregnant and called it a step forward for science, we'd all think he'd gone 'round the bend.

We don't need to do that sort of thing anymore, we'd say. We have better, kinder ways. But Mr. Gore is calling for an equally senseless animal-bashing by pushing a scientifically flawed testing program, in which thousands of chemicals that have been on the market for years will be retested on animals.

Mr. Gore and some friends in the Environmental Protection Agency started out claiming a "vacuum" of information on these substances. What they really meant was that no one has taken the time to collect the volumes of existing data, centralize them and make them publicly accessible.

It has been embarrassing for Mr. Gore and the EPA so far. Under pressure from animal rights activists, with bipartisan support from Congress, the EPA has already admitted it didn't do its homework. Much of the "missing" data has been "found."

Still Mr. Gore pushes on, advocating the testing of products that have been on the market for years. If he has his way, rat poison will be tested on rats -- care to hazard a guess about the results?

To be charitable, suppose for a moment that Mr. Gore came up with some chemicals whose properties were unknown. Animal testing would tell us little about their potential danger to humans.

The basic tests in the original proposal, now being challenged by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and other animal protection groups, are from the 1920s and 1930s. They are this crude and painful: Force the chemicals down the animals' throats, smear them onto their abraded backs or inject them directly into their stomachs until the animals die.

Metabolic differences

After the bodies have piled up, we know how much turpentine or gasoline kills a rabbit -- but, while the rabbit suffers every bit as much as a person, physiologically a rabbit is not a person: His body metabolizes chemicals in far different ways.

In other words, we will know zip about how those chemicals affect the human body and we will not have achieved any tangible progress toward assuring public safety or protecting the environment.

Why is the vice president pushing for slaughter when more accurate, humane methods are available? Supporting this program sounds catchy, but it is political science, not good science.

The problem is, some pundits have swallowed his pitch hook, line and sinker, and they're praising his efforts. The chemical companies, eager to appear concerned about safety, are going along with Mr. Gore, knowing full well they will always have an out. Just try, say, getting paint in your eye, and you will learn the hard way that every company will claim (as they have repeatedly in court cases and news releases) that they couldn't possibly apply animal test results directly to humans.

Of course, somebody has to pay for this, the largest animal-test plan in our nation's history. We taxpayers have that honor. The costs should also concern everyone with a genuine interest in the environment, as the EPA is already redirecting much-needed resources from effective environmental programs.

Mr. Gore could still do much to promote safety. He could begin by requiring the EPA to take meaningful steps to protect the public from chemicals we already know to be dangerous. Until then, PETA will stay on the bunny trail.

On the bunny trail

We will continue to send a 6-foot "rabbit" to follow Mr. Gore wherever he goes. At least until enough humanitarians, environmentalists and sensible taxpayers demand -- and get -- an immediate end to this ill-conceived plan to poison millions of animals.

Ingrid Newkirk is president and co-founder of the Virginia-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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