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10.7.03

EPA Opens The Door To Testing Bug Killers On People


Doctors, environmentalists, and public health advocates have been fighting the change. When the EPA first took up the idea, medical experts began to pore over a stack of human tests. They found many of the studies were cloaked in claims of valid research but were dominated by practices that belonged in the annals of medical farce.

Today, big chemical companies are fans of human research because it encourages less stringent standards. With data from lab animals, the EPA assumes the predicted hazards for humans would be greater by a factor of 10. It's called the "inter-species rule," adopted by Congress to account for potential differences between reactions in, say, a two-year-old child and a mature lab rat. Testing on humans lets a company duck the automatic increase.

... Critics say the companies give sparse attention to decent testing procedures and that nearly every aspect of the testing seems driven by the need to get EPA approval.

-- via WitchVox


I'll set aside this article's gratuitous invocations of Naziism and corporate greed, and try to deal with the meat of it.

The disparity between human and animal results is a twisted sort of argument. If it's true that tests on humans allow chemicals to meet safety standards more easily than tests on animals subjected to the inter-species rule, that simply demonstrates that the inter-species rule is an inadequate measure of the difference between animal and human biochemistry, specifically that the rule -- but not direct human testing -- is over-cautious about calculating human safety. It seems logical that a direct empirical test of a phenomenon (i.e., human testing) would be a better measure of the phenomenon than secondhand calculated tests (i.e., animal testing plus the inter-species rule). The author favors the "wrong" side of this inconsistency because of an unspoken assumption that the intended level of safety (captured more accurately by the human tests) is too low. Is he that pessimistic about making a straightforward appeal for more stringent standards that he depends on this backdoor way of seeing them achieved?

The third quoted paragraph shows what's really at issue: poorly done tests. It's not so much a matter of valid human testing being bad, but rather a matter of human testing being done shoddily. That's certainly something to worry about, both in terms of allowing bad products on the market because of fudged data, as well as the safety of the test subjects. The author is apparently quite pessimistic about the possibility of improving testing standards, making a ban our only hope. But bad testing can be done as easily -- I would venture to say more easily -- on animals as on humans. In terms of impacts on consumers and the environment, it doesn't matter what species the tests were run on if the results were bad (and if you're an animal rights proponent, it doesn't matter in terms of test subject safety). One wonders, then, why these greedy corporations are apparently so eager to test their products on humans. The explanation that direct testing is scientifically better than secondhand -- offered by a company spokesman -- is dismissed on the basis that such concerns don't fit the corporate greed model. Perhaps that inter-species rule is so out of proportion that it would take truly egregious fudging of animal test results to make up for it.

(Note that I'm not advancing the opposite case -- that companies should be trusted to test their products on humans. I don't know enough about the issue to do more than criticize this particular attempted argument.)

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