Health Canada to drop required pesticide safety test using beagles
Science shows the yearlong test isn't necessary
It's a decision that could stop hundreds of beagles from being killed every year, say animal activists.
In the coming weeks, Health Canada is planning to end mandatory one-year pesticide safety tests using dogs, CBC News has learned.
Currently, the agency requires that manufacturers conduct the toxicity test for any food-related pesticides — such as crop sprays.
The dogs used in the experiments, typically beagles, are fed the pesticides and then killed and dissected for scientific study, say animal activists.
Health Canada told CBC News that pesticide safety studies using non-rodent animals such as dogs have been required internationally since the 1980s. But after conducting a scientific analysis, the agency concluded the yearlong test with canines isn't necessary.
The move reflects Health Canada's commitment to "the elimination of unnecessary animal testing," said spokesman Sean Upton in an email to CBC News.
There's strong, growing consensus that the one-year pesticide study with dogs is pointless. The United States reached this conclusion and stopped the same test — in 2007.
"We would have liked to see something happen sooner," said Patricia Bishop with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). She said PETA has been campaigning Health Canada to drop the testing requirement since 2011.
The research scientist added that she's pleased the agency has finally made the move. "I'm delighted," said Bishop from her home in Albany, N.Y.
Animal activists say beagles have always been the dog of choice for the pesticide tests.
"It's just scientific convention," said Troy Seidle with Humane Society International (HSI) in Toronto. "They're docile animals."
Bishop said the beagles are bred specifically for testing which typically begins when they are six months old. Over the course of a year, the dogs live in cages and are given pesticides in different doses, she added.
"They are fed pesticides in their diet, or exposed via inhalation devices placed over their noses, every day," said Bishop.
When the experiment is over, the beagles are killed and examined.
"They're looking for [harmful] effects on the liver, kidney, anything where the pesticides may be having an effect on the animal," said Bishop.
Up to 64 beagles can be used per test, she added. Bishop estimates the mandatory one-year study in Canada may have led to the yearly death of hundreds of beagles.
Both the U.S. and the European Union have already stopped requiring the year-long test. HSI says Brazil has also committed to doing the same.
Test was never necessary
Bishop said PETA has been lobbying Health Canada to stop the study because science shows it's not needed.
She explained that traditionally countries required both a 90-day and one-year study using dogs for testing food-related pesticides.
She said starting in the late 1990s, scientists started concluding that the yearlong toxicity test added nothing.
"Most of the time, any effect that they were seeing, they already saw in the 90-day [test], so they didn't need the one year," said Bishop. "They weren't getting any additional information."
Health Canada — along with other countries — will still require the 90-day test for some pesticide toxicity studies.
PETA advocates no animal testing, but Bishop believes the elimination of the yearlong study is progress. "We see this as a step," she said.
It's not over
Both PETA and HSI said the campaign to eliminate the one-year canine test isn't over because some countries still require it.
A Canadian manufacturer would still have to commission the study to sell food-related pesticides in countries such as Japan or South Korea.
The Humane Society's Seidle predicts other countries will soon fall in line because science shows the test isn't necessary.
"Hopefully, [we can] kiss this one animal test goodbye worldwide within the next year or two," he said.