These new methods include using high-speed, automated screening robots to test suspected toxic compounds, instead of using laboratory animals.
What the federal agencies are trying to do can be seen by comparing what has been done so far with what they hope new technology will allow them to do.
For example, the National Toxicology Program has been in existence for about 30 years. During that time, using animals, the program has tested 2,500 chemicals. However, using the new methods, the testing of 2,500 compounds in 15 different concentrations can be done in a single afternoon, the federal scientists said.
The scientists said it's not clear how long it would take before this high-tech testing is fully implemented. It's also not certain how much animal testing can be eliminated, they said.
Still, one animal-rights group thinks the new plan could be a giant step forward in limiting animal testing.
"We are very excited about this movement in the U.S. government," said Kate Willett, a senior policy adviser at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). "It really does represent a paradigm shift -- a new way of thinking about toxicity testing, which is great."
Not only do the new methods rely less on animals, they do a better job of protecting human health, she said.
"We are hopeful that this prevailing wind will provide momentum needed to overcome the historical inertia that's been prevalent in both the National Toxicology Program and EPA," Willett said. "Both of those groups relied heavily
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