Testing on dogs, cats and nonhuman primates by the Department of Veterans Affairs is set to be largely eliminated by 2026, an issue praised this week both in Congress and by advocates, but which others have previously asserted could impair the discovery of future medical advancements.

The move, included in the VA’s fiscal year 2024 spending bill that was signed into law in March, restricts the department from conducting certain research on the animals in the future.

“VA is on the cutting edge of research, and I am proud to say that it will be eliminating the use of research on animals within the next two years,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, said during a House subcommittee hearing Tuesday. “We’re pushing VA to find other scientific methods to conduct this vital research,” she said.

The legislative language follows a long debate over whether animal testing at VA should be limited, or whether such studies are critical for medical research.

“A growing majority of taxpayers — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike — oppose wasteful and cruel government testing on pets and primates and don’t want to be forced to foot the bill,” Justin Goodman, a senior vice president with the watchdog group White Coat Waste Project, told Military Times in a statement.

In 2016, the VA reported it experimented on roughly 16 cats, 220 dogs and 18 primates, he said, noting that it has not experimented on any dogs or cats at all since early 2022.

Not everyone though has supported a total halt to such research, contending it has allowed for advancements to support veterans with disabilities. Some medical research, the department has previously noted, can be done only with canines because they are more similar to humans than other species like rats or mice are, in terms of size and physiology.

VA Secretary David Shulkin wrote for USA Today in 2017 that canine research needed to continue as it has delivered important discoveries like the implantable cardiac pacemaker and the artificial pancreas. He did later say on social media he remains opposed toward any new dog research.

A VA-sponsored study reported in 2020 that medical testing on dogs by the department may be scientifically necessary in some cases. It did not offer a clear defense or indictment of the work, but encouraged alternatives to live-animal tests should be pursued, Military Times previously reported.

“VA has historically undertaken research using sensitive species only when absolutely necessary to fulfill our vital mission to care for those who have served in our military,” a VA spokesperson told Military Times in a statement.

The department was already taking steps to eliminate or reduce such testing, they said, adding that it oversaw a more than a 90% decrease in those studies over the last nearly 20 years.

“Ending tests on dogs, cats and primates is a welcome starting point, but it’s far from the finish line,” Shalin Gala, a vice president with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, told Military Times in a statement.

Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media

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