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A Great Day for Hamsters by P. J Lazos

On September 10, 2019, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the EPA’s plan to dramatically reduce its reliance on animal testing when researching and determining the efficacy of new drugs, pledging that the Agency would end animal testing by 2035.  How will EPA do this?  By denying funding requests for mammal studies.  While animal rights groups love the idea, the enviros and public health populations are not so sure.

Animal testings involves using a live subject — a mouse, fish, rabbit, hamster, guinea pig or regular pig, a chimpanzee, even a Mayfly — to test a new drug, pesticide, cosmetic, or other product for safety and efficacy before testing it on humans. About 26 million animals lend themselves, without consent (obvi), to animal testing each year in the U.S. alone, a practice that started as early as the 4th century BCE with the Ancient Greeks.

Animal testing is such a difficult topic. I love my furry friends just as much as Lady Shey loves her hamsters and can’t imagine them being used for testing, but what about the alternative?

For the Ancients, the alternative was humans or nothing.  But we’re no longer ancient and we have centuries of information at our disposal, right?  After reading the pros and cons, I’m convinced that banning animal testing is the way to go.

So, my Hamster Dudes, pull up your little chairs, grab a drink and a snack (although some of what I recount may discourage your appetite), put on your little reading glasses, and settle in. I hope this list doesn’t upset you too much, little Dudes, but if so, try to remain composed.

A roundup of conflicting viewpoints:

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When we first started out a gazillion years ago, we knew little of anatomy, biology, chemistry and the like, but as the years progressed, the great scholars and artists started taking notes. Michelangelo, one of the greatest sculptors and painters of the Italian Renaissance would sneak into the morgue in the Monastery at Santo Spirito in Florence in the middle of the night and dissect human bodies as a way to inform his art.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1279184/  Today, almost everything we know has been uploaded into a data base somewhere that we can all access, meaning much of the original groundwork is covered, meaning we don’t need to dissect bodies in secret.

Some people believe that by eliminating animal testing we will make our drugs less safe and that using animals to test drugs provides a live specimen rather than a model, leading to breakthroughs in developing new machines and technology that otherwise wouldn’t be discoverable with modeling alone. As a result, many technological advances such as scanners, pacemakers, and surgical techniques were first developed using animals.

In addition, the living body is not just a bunch of disjointed parts working independently. It’s a well-oiled, amazingly integrated machine, the gestalt of which is far greater than the sum of its parts.  Often researchers will induce systems in animals so they can study the various effects of a drug on a disease that otherwise would be difficult to study.  Working on live specimens helps the researcher understand the effect on the entire body in addition to what a single drug does for a single ailment.

Our pets share many illnesses with their humans such as hardening of the arteries, diabetes, cataracts, cancer, and more which makes them good test subjects. I wonder though — is it because they are forced to eat the same crappy food as we humans, devoid of nutrients and loaded with disease-causing additives like high fructose corn syrup, or is it some kind of sympathy sickness?  Also, if a drug is shown to be efficacious on animals it doesn’t mean it will work on humans. In fact, 94% of drugs that got the green light because of animal testing failed in human clinical trials.

In almost half of the cases, animal studies don’t predict the human outcome. As computers and artificial intelligence advances, the opportunities to experiment with computer-generated, non-living creatures increases exponentially.

Consider this: In the book, “Let the Dog Drive” a car manufacturer uses living dogs to crash test vehicles.  Check it out.  It was a real thing and not just a work of fiction:

https://www.peta.org/blog/25-year-anniversary-peta-ends-car-crash-tests-on-animals/  I mean — cruel!  Not to mention that it falls squarely in the “researchers who deliberately mistreat animals” category.  Eww!  Conversely, those same animals saved some poor humans the pain of crashing-sans-testing!

Animal testing is more expensive, is not a stable predictor, and the test results are more often inaccurate than correct; plus it follows the old ways rather than embracing new technology. Instead, why not study cells under a microscope?  A whole pharmaceutical industry was built doing business this way.

To encourage scientists to abandon animal testing in favor of more benign experiments, EPA is offering $4.25 million in grants to five universities in the hopes that they can come up with safe alternatives. I wish the EPA and the partnering universities success in this endeavor.

The Buddhists believe that all life is sentient which means even the mayflies whose life cycle is all of one day can “feel” something. Perhaps it’s time to quit animal testing and practice on non-sentient beings like computers.  The results will be greater and far more specific.  After all, don’t we need to give super computers something to do?  We have the technology.  We can do this thing without harming a hair on those furry little hamster heads.

The Dudes can take a deep relaxing breath now because the EPA is on their side. Just make sure you guys stay out of the lab between now and 2035 and you’ll be fine.

Good luck out there.

P. J. Lazos is the author of the novel Oil and Water, about oil spills and green technology, and of Six Sisters, a collection of novellas; a blogger for the Global Water Alliance (GWA) in Philadelphia; on the Board of Advisors for the wH2O Journal, the Journal of Gender and Water (U of Penn); a member of the Jr. League of Lancaster; a former correspondent for her local newspaper (Lancaster Intelligencer Journal now LNP); a literary magazine contributor (Rapportage); an editor; a ghostwriter; an author of a children’s book (Into the Land of the Loud); an environmental lawyer; and, because it’s cool, a beekeeper’s apprentice. She practices laughter daily.