The Trump administration has announced new regulations that will change how scientists test the safety of chemicals.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has ordered a total ban starting in 15 years of animal testing on products that are overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Animal rights groups such as PETA cheered the decision, calling it a significant step toward ending testing on all animals throughout all federally funded institutions and programs.

Scientists expressed alarm, warning that the move increases the risk of dangerous chemicals getting into our water, air and soil — and subsequently, our bodies.

Researchers use animals to test how safe new drugs and chemicals are. It’s part of the scientific method that has been used for centuries. To determine whether a new product would make a person sick or cause birth defects — just two examples — researchers use mice or other animals for testing.

It’s not a perfect method of testing, but it’s proven to be one of the best, and it’s vital to efforts to protect human health.

Animal rights activists argue that there are alternatives — such as relying on computer models or testing only cellular material.

Most reputable scientists respond that those alternatives are often inferior and ineffective.

Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist for the National Resources Defense Council, a left-leaning environmental group, said much of the research that needs to be done can’t be conducted with cells in a dish or models based on previous research. The alternatives promoted by animal rights activists, she said, are improving, but, for example, would not have allowed scientists to learn that exposure to lead causes serious developmental disabilities in children.

The new rules, Sass said, will “allow potentially dangerous chemicals to get out there into the environment and into consumer products.”

Wheeler, however, is more interested in the health of lab rats.

He shared with reporters an essay he wrote for his college paper in 1987, and said he was inspired by his mother, who loves animals, to use his present authority to end animal testing.

That’s a heck of a way to develop federal policy.

I can say with certainty that if I were heading up a federal agency, I would not let my mother’s affection — or lack of same — for animals shape how scientists do their jobs. And with equal certainty, I can say my mother would agree that ensuring the safety of human health should not be based on her personal opinion about animal rights.

It would be easy to write off this one Trump cabinet official as an aberration. But we have seen repeatedly that science takes a back seat to politics and personal preference in today’s federal government.

Take the administration’s petulant reaction to President Trump’s inaccurate claim about a hurricane’s expected path of damage.

Or the president’s claims that wind turbines cause cancer.

Then there are the administration’s ongoing denials regarding climate change.

Science has proven no match for politics in the current White House.

Some see Wheeler’s new rule as a roundabout way to relax testing requirements. Critics say companies will be able to use unreliable and limited methods of testing to show that their products are safe.

It’s not clear that will happen. But it is clear that the federal government has decided to place a higher value on animal rights than on human safety.

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers across Kansas.