MEPs have voted in favour of the creation of new EU facilities to develop alternatives to animal experiments. The vote by the European Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee in Brussels1 marked a key stage in the revision of Europe’s 20 year old animal experiments law, Directive 86/609/EEC2. Replacing experiments on live animals with more reliable, modern techniques is a major ethical and scientific priority says the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research charity3.
More than 12 million animals are used in EU labs each year4. However Europe-level efforts to develop alternatives are too narrowly focused to impact on the majority of research areas where animals are used. Whilst much progress has been made in finding alternatives to animals in regulatory toxicity testing, most animals in EU laboratories are used in basic medical research where far less effort has been focused. MEPs are now supporting proposals that would see increased funding and co-ordination to bridge this gap in non-animal replacement research.
However, MEPs have also been criticised for giving in to the lobbying interests of the pharmaceutical and animal research industry, by failing to support progressive measures aimed at improving animals’ lives. Restrictions on the re-use of animals already used in experiments, limits of levels of pain animals can experience, and a phase-out of offspring born to wild-caught primates are all measures that have been rejected by MEPs following intensive and often alarmist lobbying by research groups.
The Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research is leading the campaign in Brussels to put advanced, non-animal research methods at the heart of the new legislation. MEP support for more alternatives research is very welcome, but they are still betraying millions of vulnerable animals, says the charity.
“The replacement of animal experiments with advanced non-animal techniques is widely acknowledged as the ultimate goal that benefits both people and animals.” says Emily McIvor, Policy Director at the Dr Hadwen Trust. “Existing replacement solutions such as 3-D models, high-tech brain scanners and in silico techniques are already making a huge difference in the laboratory, but so much more needs to be done for us to fully benefit from more ethical and human-relevant methods. New EU facilities to advance alternatives will enable the EU to lead the world in cutting-edge science without animal suffering. However, whilst animals continue to be used in research, the very least we should expect is for policy makers to do the decent thing and offer them robust protection. By so far voting against wholly reasonable measures to improve welfare, MEPs are betraying millions of vulnerable animals and choosing instead to protect the vested interests of multi-billion dollar research corporations.”
The Dr Hadwen Trust funds a medical research programme at British universities to develop new non-animal techniques such as 3-D models of disease, advanced human brain imaging equipment and computer modelling. The charity is leading the campaign for an EU-wide strategy to vastly increase investment in new non-animal replacement methods through the new EU legislation. World renowned primatologist Dr Jane Goodall DBE has supported the campaign5, travelling to the European Parliament in May 2009 to hand in our 150,000 signature petition from citizens in thirteen member states calling for greater action on alternatives.
The next significant voting stage takes place in the Agriculture Committee on March 31st, followed by a full plenary vote in the European Parliament expected April/May 2009.
1 Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) Committee vote took place Monday 11 March at 8pm.
2 The proposal to revise Directive 86/609 EEC
4 12.1 million animals were used in EU experiments in 2005; Fifth Report on the Statistics on the Number of Animals used for Experimental and other Scientific Purposes in the Member States of the European Union published 5/11/2007 (these are the most recent EU wide statistics available).
5 Jane Goodall PhD, DBE is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and a UN Messenger of Peace. www.janegoodall.org