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ADI: Propaganda about changes to European animal testing laws ignores tragedy for lab animals

Animal Defenders International has hit back at spin from the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament that animal testing will be minimised and welfare improved – after a crucial vote on the regulations for animal experiments across Europe.

MEPs, heavily briefed by animal supply and research industries, backed a series of amendments that seriously weaken animal protection and introduction of advanced replacement methods, from the European Commission.

ADI is horrified that MEPs have voted for amendments that would allow animals to suffer severe and prolonged pain, and almost unlimited re-use of animals in all but a handful of experiments, including toxicity tests and inducing brain damage.

MEPs rejected the idea that tests using non-human primates should be restricted to “life-threatening or debilitating” conditions, using the justification that this would hinder research into diseases like Alzheimer’s. Yet, researchers at Aston University recently announced a breakthrough in growing a living model of brain tissue in the lab without the need for animals, which could aid this research. Rejecting the phase-out of primate experiments ignores the will of 80% of European citizens who find primate research unacceptable, and more than half the MEPs in the European Parliament who signed a Written Declaration calling for a timetable to abolish primate testing.

MEPs in the Agriculture Committee cited the requirement under other European and international guidelines for drugs to be tested on primates before they are approved. However, this is not a guarantee of the safety of medicines. In the UK case of test drug TGN1412, lab monkeys had been safely given doses 500 times more than the human volunteers, who suffered terrible, almost fatal, side effects.

Although headlines have trumpeted a ban on research using great apes, ADI is deeply concerned about exemptions and is calling for a blanket ban with no loopholes.

Even measures to prevent lab animal dealers from trapping monkeys in the wild have been slashed. Instead of the European Commission’s proposed seven-year phase-out of use of wild-caught and primates born of wild parents, MEPs have postponed taking any action by asking for a feasibility study to be set up. Yet ADI’s research on the issues has confirmed that the EC’s proposal is feasible, given the breeding periods for the species involved.

ADI refutes the Agriculture Committee assertion that restricting the use of primates in European research would give an advantage to American or Asian competitors. It’s claimed that research moves to countries where animal welfare standards are lower, but ADI research has shown that in the UK pharmaceutical industry, competitiveness has improved over the last 20 years since the introduction of tighter regulation of use of animals and scientific research. In 2007 the industry was ranked first in trade surplus, making it the most competitive industry in the UK, so improved animal welfare regulations and strict controls over scientific experiments actually improves standards of good laboratory practice, and allows scientific development to flourish.

The MEPs have gone against the idea of a properly regulated animal research industry, with the adoption of advanced scientific and technological methods at its centre. Yet the evidence is clear that encouragement of development of advanced techniques is good for European science and industry, as well as for people.

ADI Chief Executive, Jan Creamer, says “It is beyond belief that these revisions to animal testing legislation are being portrayed as a good thing for animals. Make no mistake, this is a tragedy. MEPs are claiming to protect laboratory animals whilst simultaneously slashing protections proposed by the European Commission, which they spent years developing in consultation with all parties. Many people thought MEPs would strengthen these proposals and stand up to industry lobbyists. Instead the Commission proposals are being torn apart. Even measures to prevent lab animal dealers from trapping wild monkeys have been slashed, and there seems no will to begin phasing out the use of primates. This completely goes against the public and political mood that wherever possible, animal research should be replaced by advanced techniques. Animals and members of the public have been badly let down.”

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