Animal experiments directive – finally

Finally, a year late, the EU Commission has submitted its proposal for a new directive for the protection of animals used in scientific experiments. The Environmental Commissioner, Stavros Dimas, had promised that the directive would be submitted on repeated occasions, including at my conference last spring. The current directive (86/609EEC) is 22 years old, so the need was great for a modern animal protection law.

In brief, the Commission’s new proposal means:
* That experiments on animals may only be used where no other alternative is available.

My comment: a very good proposal that, if actually followed, can lead to a reduction in the number of animals exploited. A similar law is already in effect in Sweden but has not lead to reductions; on the contrary, animal experimentation is on the increase in Sweden and the EU.

* Animal experiments “must be reduced to a minimum.”
My comment: as above, all well and good if it is taken seriously. The same provision is already contained in the current directive; but perhaps it can be said that language has been strengthened, with references to the “3 Rs” (Reduction, Refinement and Replacement), etc.

* Animal experiments are banned with respect to the big apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and Bonobos monkeys).
My comment: this is fine, but unfortunately there are a number of exceptions made. Additionally, no such experimentation is conducted in Europe today. And sadly, there is no plan for phasing out the use of primates, as we in the European Parliament have demanded.

* A ban on experimentation with apes and primates captured in the wild is instituted.
My comment: again, good but not exactly revolutionary.

* Ethical review prior to each animal experiment is established.
My comment: this is also good and is similar to the system already in place in Sweden with what is known as “ethical animal experimentation councils.” Unfortunately the system doesn’t work very well. Of course, it’s better than no system at all for ethical review.

* Minimum requirements for how animals are to be kept are established.
My comment: good but, once again, hardly revolutionary.

1. It’s good that the proposal has finally been submitted, but the delay was unacceptable. We have been nagging the Commission about this for a long time.

2. It’s a shame that concrete requirements for minimum annual reductions in the use of animals have not been included (in the way that they have for greenhouse gas emissions). This should have been a natural consequence of the ambition to reduce animal experimentation to “a minimum”. Over 12 million animals are killed in research each year, fully half-a-million of them in Sweden. The numbers are increasing in Sweden as well as the EU.

3. It’s disappointing that there is no plan for phasing out animal experiments using primates (macaques, Rhesus monkeys, etc.), as demanded by the European Parliament last year.

4. It’s particularly shocking that no clear reference is made to the EU’s center for the evaluation of alternative methods, ECVAM, with promises of increased funding and a plan for how alternatives to animal experimentation are to be developed. The center’s industrious manager, Thomas Hartung was fired last spring.

5. The proposal now comes before the EU Parliament and those of us in the environment committee. The battle has just begun!

P S The Swedish Fund for Research Without Animal Experiments have just granted funding to Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Karolinska Institutet, for research on alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in Hepatitis C research. Yes, there are indeed alternatives!