The latest issue of Animal Times, the quarterly publication of
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, announces the group’s grants to companies
developing human embryo testing as one of the alternatives to the use of
rats and other beasts in product safety tests.
“PETA has given $250,000 to assist in the validation of non-animal
test methods to replace existing animal tests,” an article in the Winter
1999 edition of the journal says. “PETA awarded a $200,000 grant to the
Institute for In Vitro Science (IIVS) in
Maryland to support a replacement for the use of rats in lethal dose
poisoning tests for chemicals, household products and pharmaceuticals.”
The group also announced a $50,000 grant to Dr. Bjorn Ekwall of the
Cytotoxicology Laboratory in Upsala, Sweden.
“Dr. Ekwall’s work under the Multicenter Evaluation of In Vitro
Cytotoxicity (MEIC) proved that the use of human cells can more
accurately predict the toxic nature of a substance than can rodent
tests,” the article reported.
PETA describes itself as “an international non-profit animal
protection organization with more than 600,000 members dedicated to
establishing the rights of all animals.” Prominent members include
former Beatle Paul McCartney. Other celebrity supporters include
“Politically Incorrect” host Bill Maher, actress Alicia Silverstone,
actress Pamela Sue Anderson, and actor Steven Seagal, who said,
according to the organization’s magazine: “We have to view all life as
But it’s not PETA, alone, promoting an agenda of finding any
alternative to animal testing — even if it means experiments using
human embryos. In fact, since 1993, the federal government has joined
the movement with the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the
Validation of Alternative Methods ICCVAM.
The offshoot of the National Institutes of Health unites
representatives from 14 federal agencies and programs that generate or
use information from toxicological test methods to support human health
or environmental risk assessments.
The committee was formed as a result of the NIH Revitalization Act of
1993. It is responsible for the coordination of the development and
review of various alternative toxicological methods.
A United Kingdom group linked to IIVS defines the “replacement
alternatives” to animal testing quite clearly.
The Fund for the
Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments says the acceptable substitutes can be
divided into six categories: information; computer-based systems;
physico-chemical techniques; the use of lower organisms and embryo
stages; human studies; and cell, tissue and organ cultures.
With regard to “cell, tissue and organ culture,” the group has this
to say: “In many disciplines, these in vitro systems are not seen as
replacement alternatives, but as the norm, especially for studies at the
cellular and molecular level. In many cases they are only relative
replacements, because they require freshly obtained animal cells and
tissue. However, even when freshly isolated material is required, the
animals are used more economically, because a single animal will provide
tissue for a number of cultures. Human material can sometimes be used,
but it can be difficult to obtain, store and distribute. Some human
tissue becomes available when it is removed during surgery. Human
placenta has been suggested as a source of tissue for various types of
research. For example, it contains mast cells which share certain
structures with nerve cells and so can sometimes be used for
“The Institute does not conduct human embryo testing nor do we plan to,”
said Rodger D. Curren, Ph.D., president or the Institute for In Vitro
Sciences, Inc. “We do grow both human and animal cells in plastic
flasks, i.e. ‘in vitro,’ but the human cells are generally derived from
normally discarded surgical tissue. … Our laboratory does not conduct
any in vitro fertilization.”
The fund’s corporate benefactors include: Avon Products Inc.,
Fabergé, L’Oréal, Pfizer Ltd, Proctor and Gamble Ltd., Safeway Stores
and SmithKline Beecham Consumer Healthcare. Corporate sponsors and
supporters include Gillette, Warner Lambert UK Ltd, Woolworths,
Colgate-Palmolive Ltd., Johnson & Johnson Ltd. and Johnson Wax Ltd.
Interestingly, Proctor and Gamble has been a frequent target of PETA
for its use of animal tests.
The literature of the groups and companies active in this area
suggest it is time to create human tissue banks as suppliers for
expanded experimentation and testing in the future.
A spokeswoman for PETA found no contradiction in its support of
organizations involved in human and animal embryo tests.
“I didn’t know any commercial firms were doing human embryo tests,”
said Mary Beth Swetland, director of research and investigation for the
group. “But, no, I don’t see any problem with it. I don’t think it
raises any moral or ethical challenges for us. The tests we’re funding
at IIVS are human-cell tests, not embryo research.”