Outgoing EPA chief Andrew R. Wheeler issued a last-minute reprieve he hopes will set free rabbits that have been used for testing at agency labs.
In an order memorialized in an agency memo dated Wednesday, just before Mr. Wheeler’s departure, he directed that bunnies being used at Environmental Protection Agency labs in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina be retired.
The memo says the EPA will now take steps to carry out that process.
“We are aware that other federal agencies have worked with nonprofit institutions to care for animals after their use in laboratories. A first step in exploring potential options would likely be to consult with other parts of the federal government that have accomplished similar animal retirement efforts,” wrote Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, assistant administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, and David Dunlap, deputy assistant administrator at the Office of Research and Development.
They cautioned, though, that there are “many complexities associated with the potential retirement of laboratory animals.”
Some of the bunnies involved in EPA research were being used to produce ejaculate for study.
Female rabbits were kept nearby to help males produce usable ejaculate, according to the White Coat Waste Project, which has pushed to rein in government testing using animals.
“Some the rabbits have been kept at the EPA for nearly a decade. But the bunnies haven’t been given the opportunity to be adopted into a home after they were no longer ‘useful’ as sperm machines,” the folks at White Coat said in a piece last year detailing their findings.
White Coat has been pushing to free the bunnies.
“We’re proud to have worked with Andrew Wheeler and his colleagues to secure this last-minute pardon for survivors of EPA’s taxpayer-funded animal tests,” said Anthony Bellotti, the group’s president. “Mr. Wheeler’s directive to retire the last of the bunnies in the EPA’s taxpayer-funded labs cements his legacy as a policy pioneer who made the once-lofty goal of ending wasteful and cruel taxpayer-funded animal tests a reality.”
Mr. Wheeler had previously set a goal for the EPA to end taxpayer-funded animal testing at the agency by 2035.
Mr. Bellotti called that the “gold standard” for other federal agencies to match.
In the memo, the EPA officials said rabbit experimentation at the agency was already on the decline, thanks to new chemical testing methods.
Wednesday’s reprieve for the rabbits in North Carolina comes on the last day of the Trump administration, when President Trump issued his own set of pardons for more than 140 humans.