OTTAWA—Animal Justice is celebrating the passage of Bill S-5, the Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act, which includes measures aimed at phasing out painful toxicity tests on animals. The bill passed a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday 59-19, and received royal assent the same night.
When it was first introduced, the bill included an aspirational statement in the preamble indicating a desire to move away from animal toxicity testing, but no concrete measures to phase it out. Animal Justice and partner organizations worked with lawmakers to amend the bill to include a roadmap to reduce and replace the use of animals in toxicity testing, which is done to assess environmental and health risks from chemicals.
The new law requires the government to support and start using cruelty-free alternatives to toxicity testing on animals, empowers the government to make regulations about how non-animal testing should be done, and mandates that the Ministers of the Environment and Health publish a plan within the next two years to promote animal-free toxicity testing methods. They will then be required to report annually on progress made under the plan.
“This is truly a momentous day for animals in Canada”, said lawyer Kaitlyn Mitchell, director of legal advocacy with Animal Justice. “Toxicity testing is the most harmful and painful use of animals in scientific research, and involves experiments that often fall under the most severe category of harm that animals can experience. We are seeing a global shift away from toxicity testing on animals and with this new law, Canada can finally catch up to jurisdictions like the US and EU, which already have strong legal tools to phase out these horrific experiments.”
“Toxicity testing on animals is costly, time-consuming, and ineffective for predicting human biological responses, not to mention the ethical implications,” said Dr. Charu Chandrasekera, founder and executive director of the Canadian Centre for Alternatives to Animal Methods at the University of Windsor. “We need a different way forward—one that is more predictive of human biology. I am absolutely thrilled to see this landmark moment signifying Canada’s commitment to 21st century science, innovation, and ethics—to protect humans, animals, and our environment.”
- Toxicity tests are done to see whether a chemical causes harm to the environment or could cause adverse reactions like tumours, skin burns, blindness, birth defects, or death. The tests can involve inflicting burns or trauma on unanesthetized animals, applying deadly substances to their bodies, and forcing them to eat harmful chemicals. Doses are often given repeatedly for many months, or until an animal dies.
- Many of the tests fall under Category E—the most painful class of tests, which cause severe pain at the pain threshold for conscious, unanesthetized animals.
- In 2019 alone, more than 90,000 animals were used in Canada in toxicity tests falling into Category E. Animals commonly used include rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and birds.
- Examples of chemicals tested on animals include those used for industrial fracking, air fresheners, household cleaners, plastic products like water bottles, stain-resistant fabrics, food packaging, and fragranced consumer products like fabric softeners, dryer sheets, or colognes.
- Laws in the US and EU require non-animal methods to be developed and implemented for toxicity testing. For instance, the US Toxic Substances Control Act requires the use of approaches not involving animals before toxicity testing on animals is considered, and directs the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a strategic plan to reduce and replace animal testing and promote the development of non-animal methods.
A comprehensive backgrounder on Bill S-5 is available here.
Director of Legal Advocacy, Animal Justice
Dr. Charu Chandrasekera
Canadian Centre for Alternative to Animal Methods
University of Windsor