GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It’s been more than a year since heartbreaking video – obtained in an undercover operation by The Humane Society of the United States – exposed the brutality of dog testing inside Charles River Laboratories in Mattawan. The video showed 30-plus beagles being tested on and force-fed dangerous pesticides daily. The tests were being carried out for Dow AgroSciences (now known as Corteva Agriscience).
Those dogs were eventually set free, and have all since been adopted to new homes. But dog testing is still legal in Michigan, and FOX17 has learned of two bills that are stalled in state the legislature that could minimize the brutality of the practice or end it altogether in the state.
House Bill 5090 (SB971) and House Bill 4496 are both aimed at reducing the number of dogs used in laboratory testing. The former would “prohibit the conducting of research or training activities on dogs in a manner that causes pain and distress,” while 4496 would “require research facilities to offer laboratory animals no longer used for research…for adoption before euthinization.”
Because of COVID-19, sponsors of the bills tell FOX17 they haven’t seen much movement. There’s no hard number for how many dogs are used and killed during testing each year in the U.S., but estimates by some advocacy groups, including the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, reach upwards of 60,000.
“It’s literally impossible in the United States to know how many animals are used,” said Ryan Merkley, a spokesman for PCRM. “Nobody wants unsafe methods to come to the market, nobody wants unsafe drugs to be prescribed, but the fact is that animals are not getting us safer devices - they’re not getting us safer medicines.”
Merkley and PCRM have been advocating for the passage of bills like SB971 and HB4496 not just in Michigan, but in other states and says they’ve seen some success. No medical schools in the U.S. use animals for training anymore, but they’re still being used in harmful experiments at schools like Wayne State University. Merkley says over the course of their three dog testing programs that span 30-years, they’ve spent $12-million in taxpayer money with little to show for results.
“They have built a cottage industry around using dogs in experiments,” said Merkley. “The university has been using dogs in really invasive experiments for three decades. They’ve spent 12-million dollars in taxpayer money doing so. They’ve killed 300 dogs in the process… and they have nothing to show for it.”
The grants come from the NIH which, along with the FDA, doesn’t require testing on dogs for approval. But they may still request drug-makers do it, and other countries may require animal testing for approval within their borders. After three decades of testing for heart disease and failure, the State Health Department still lists heart disease as the number one killer in Michigan.
“They’re not actually trying to develop any devices or pharmaceuticals or treatments that might need FDA approval,” said Merkley, “they’re just conducting research, gathering data then publishing that data to get more money.”
“They weren’t violating laws; they were absolutely allowed to be doing what they were doing but it’s still heart wrenching,” said Kathleen Conlee, whose used to work in a lab doing animal testing but has since left and was part of the team that helped free the DOW beagles last year. “It’s not in statute somewhere that you have to use dogs. But inevitably what will happen is a company will go to the FDA, try to get a drug approved, and they say, ‘we need you to do a dog test.’”
And Conlee says each day a drug-maker doesn’t reach approval, they’re losing money.
“Even the Food and Drug Administration, huge drug failure rates relying on animal tests, and it’s not acceptable,” said Conlee.
Merkley added that, according to the FDA, 95% of drugs that prove safe and effective in animals, fail in subsequent human testing.
Conlee and Merkley say, there are alternatives like human clinical trials, using cellular models or donated organs for testing, or the growing practice of organ-on-a-chip, which uses human tissues and try to simulate an environment like a lung or a brain. The two also note the differences between the human body and that of a dog or other animal.
“We need results - we need better treatments for people - and you’re not going to get that in dogs,” said Merkley.
Both he and Conlee are hoping the bills will gain approval soon.
Here's the full statement provided to FOX17 from Wayne State University regarding dog testing:
Although use of animals other than mice, rats and fish is uncommon at Wayne State, the university has two federally-funded research projects involving dogs. These research programs are working on new strategies for the treatment of congestive heart failure and hypertension. Heart disease is the number one killer in America, so the odds are this research is going to benefit your health or the lives of your loved ones.
Every winter we hear about someone having a heart attack while shoveling snow. Certain types of exercise trigger a type of feedback loop in people with high blood pressure or modest heart failure. How this feedback loop is triggered and why it escalates to a heart attack under certain conditions, like shoveling snow, is not well understood. Research at Wayne State is making progress uncovering the factors that contribute to this deadly cycle and treatments aimed at interrupting this vicious cycle which leads to sudden cardiac death.
The world’s most eminent experts in clinical and translational cardiovascular sciences sitting on National Institutes of Health panels rate the research as highly important. The NIH continues to fund this research because these scientists view Wayne State’s research data and peer-reviewed journal articles as valuable contributions to cardiovascular research. Only the top 15 percent of all NIH grants in this field are funded, so if the research was not productive and valuable it would not continually receive competitive funding.
Scientific research advances by building upon the existing data and literature, and the work being done in the Wayne State labs is doing just that. One of these projects has been continuously funded by the NIH for 22 years which reflects the importance NIH places on the progress this research has achieved.
The NIH’s cardiovascular experts are far more qualified to judge the quality of scientific research than the PCRM, which is dedicated to ending animal research of any kind, a position unsupported by many organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Wayne State is committed to the responsible and ethical use of animals in research, but also recognizes the benefits of research involving animals. Animal research has played a vital role in virtually every major medical advance of the last century – for both human and animal health. From antibiotics to blood transfusions, from dialysis to chemotherapy, bypass surgery and joint replacement, practically every present-day therapy for the prevention, treatment, cure and control of disease, pain and suffering is based on knowledge attained through research with animals.
The animal laboratories at Wayne State are subject to unannounced inspections, veterinary oversight, and intense regulatory and ethical scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare; our record is exemplary. All vertebrate animals used in research are obtained from licensed national vendors who raise a variety of animals for use in approved research projects. No animals from pounds are used for any NIH-sponsored research.
The university has the highest level of ethical standards in conducting biomedical research, as well as the highest level of care for animals used in research and has been accredited by AAALAC International since its inception.
Wayne State University is committed to ensuring that all research and teaching protocols using live animals are designed and carried out in a humane manner that complies with all laws, policies and guidelines.
The university strictly adheres to the policy of using only as many animals as reasonably necessary, minimizing discomfort and distress, and using alternatives whenever feasible.
- Matt Lockwood, University Spokesman
Here is the full statement provided to FOX17 by the FDA regarding dog testing:
As the principal agency responsible for the protection of public health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration plays a critical role in research that improves regulatory science, as well as new drug and vaccine discovery. The FDA’s research is focused in a few key areas: confirming that medical products are safe and efficacious; advancing our understanding of the products we regulate and the effects of those products and potential contaminants may have on people and animals, to make informed regulator decisions; and identifying potential new treatments and vaccines that may address challenging health concerns. This includes research that spans our regulatory responsibility, including drugs, vaccines, food and tobacco, among others.While the FDA is committed to doing all that it can to reduce the reliance on animal-based studies, there are still many areas where animal research is necessary. Without the use of animals, it would be impossible to gain some of the important knowledge needed to prevent human and animal suffering for many life-threatening diseases. Animal research has played an important role in advancements such as preventing polio, eradicating smallpox and identifying new cancer treatments. We understand and share concerns that animals be involved in research only when there is no other way to fulfil an important public health objective. And, when these studies are necessary, the animals involved in research must be cared for under strict, humane guidelines.
As part of the agency’s commitment to replacing, reducing, and/or refining animal studies, often referred to as the “3Rs,” on Nov. 16, 2018, the FDA proposed a study [fda.gov] that, once completed, could provide a way for animal drug developers to conduct certain types of research without the use of dogs. The proposed study is part of the FDA’s overall efforts to help reduce reliance on animals used for research. If validated, this study could provide a new tool for animal drug developers to use in their own research for certain products and help them generate data in support of applications submitted to the agency without the use of animals. This is one example of several activities that the FDA is conducting to help provide industry with modern approaches to data generation that do not require the use of animals.In addition to this proposed study, the FDA has already taken significant steps to reaffirm and strengthen our commitment to replacing, reducing, and/or refining animal studies and support the development and use of alternative methods (such as assays and technologies like organs-on-a-chip). We’ve formed the Modeling and Simulation Working Group to accelerate the adoption of modeling and simulation tools in product development and evaluation; initiated the Toxicology Working Group, [blogs.fda.gov] which has developed a roadmap for integrating emerging predictive toxicology methods and new technologies into regulatory safety and risk assessments; and initiated the Alternative Methods Working Group (Advancing Alternative Methods) to support the advancement of new technologies as alternatives to animal testing.
- Tara Rabin, FDA Spokeswoman
Here is the full statement to FOX17 from the American Medical Association regarding dog testing:
AMA policy affirms support for the appropriate and compassionate use of animals in biomedical research programs. The following policy best communications the AMA’s position.Use of Animals in Research H-460.979
(1) Researchers should include in their protocols a commitment to ethical principles that promote high standards of care and humane treatment of all animals used in research. Further, they should provide animal review committees with sufficient information so that effective review can occur. For their part, institutions should strengthen their animal review committees to provide effective review of all research protocols involving animals. (2) The appropriate and humane use of animals in biomedical research should not be unduly restricted. Local and national efforts to inform the public about the importance of the use of animals in research should be supported. (3) The development of suitable alternatives to the use of animals in research should be encouraged among investigators and supported by government and private organizations. The selection of alternatives ultimately must reside with the research investigator.
- Robert Mills, AMA Spokesman
And here is the full statement to FOX17 from the American Veterinary Medical Association on dog testing:
The AVMA recognizes that animals have an important role in research, testing, and education for continued improvement of human and animal health and welfare. The use of animals in research, testing, and education is a privilege carrying with it unique professional, scientific, and moral obligations, and ethical responsibilities. The AVMA encourages proper care of all animals, and supports the judicious use of animals in meaningful research, testing, and education programs.
The AVMA recognizes that humane care of animals used in research, testing, and education is an integral part of those activities. In keeping with these values, the AVMA endorses the principles embodied in the "3 Rs" tenet of Russell and Burch (1959). These principles are: replacement of animals with non-animal methods wherever feasible; reduction of the number of animals consistent with sound experimental design; and refinement of experimental methods to eliminate or reduce animal pain and distress.
The use of animals for research, testing, and education should adhere to sound ethical and animal welfare principles, including compliance with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations; contemporary standards of veterinary care; and peer review of animal welfare by an oversight body (e.g., IACUCs). External, third- party assurance of animal welfare should also be used to provide additional review and transparency.
The AVMA condemns all acts of violence, vandalism, or intimidation directed toward individuals, facilities, institutions, or tertiary organizations affiliated with the use of animals in research, testing, or education.
- Michael San Filippo, AVMA Spokesman