Assessing safety without animal testing

Consumers need to know that their food is safe. This is why all substances and ingredients used in the food production chain must be subjected to consumer safety tests.

Statutory animal testing

Many of these tests, particularly those testing the absorption and possible toxicity of substances, are still carried out on animals because this is a statutory part of the procedure. This includes testing the possible effects of veterinary drugs, crop protection products, biocides, food additives and genetically modified organisms and chemicals.

Useful and necessary

Food safety studies involve feeding a test product to mice or rats for a specified period. But do we really need to do all the ‘obligatory’ tests, or could we judge each case on its merits and simply do what is useful and necessary? Extensive testing is obviously important for new substances, when we have no idea about the possible effects.

A lot of research needed

Most of the substances being tested are simply different versions of existing substances. We already have a good idea of the type of reactions we can expect. In cases like this, we could conduct fewer experiments on animals, or even none at all. Wageningen Food Safety Research is devising alternative tests, but a lot more research is needed before we can put our hand on our heart and say that these non-animal in-vitro alternatives are reliable enough to replace experiments on animals. Unfortunately, if we are to maintain the current level of safety, we cannot yet dispense with animal testing altogether.

Golden standard must change

Despite the clear scientific disadvantages of animal testing (unrefined, limited predictability), the high costs and the ethical objections, experimenting on animals is still the ‘golden standard’ when it comes to safety assessments. This can and must change. At Wageningen Food Safety Research, we are working on various strategies for gauging the safety of products and substances without the need for experiments involving animals.

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