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Discussion of European Commission proposals on primate experiments

Brussels 19.1.09: Consideration of European Commission Proposal on regulation of animal experiments in the European Union starts in Agriculture.

The Proposal includes a ban on the use in experiments of apes, wild caught monkeys, and a phase-out of the use of monkeys born of wild caught parents – however there are exemptions and this is where campaigners will press for current loopholes to be closed.

The proposed new Directive on Protection of animals used for Scientific Purposes was introduced at the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI), today, 19 January 2009.

This was the introduction and first reading of the Directive and the first “exchange of views”.

Rapporteur: Neil Parish (EPP-ED, UK)

Rapporteur Neil Parish (EPP-ED, UK) only allotted little time of the meeting to inform the committee of where he was with his report, what his general position was, and to give the European commission representative an opportunity to also speak.

Mr Parish was especially keen to stress the need for balance between animal welfare and the need for research, and this balance would be the overriding position of the report. Though in an ideal world animal testing would be banned altogether, he made it clear that there are some instances where no alternative is currently available and therefore in cases like this, the research must be done in a way that treats the animals as humanely as possible.

He touched on the issue of using non-human primates in research, describing it as ‘tricky and sensitive’ He also wished for it to be known that he report would be based on the meetings that he has had with both animal welfare NGOs and industry experts.

Moving on to discuss a timetable for the report, he stated that the Czech Presidency was not keen for this to be on their agenda, a position in contrast to Sweden who will hold the presidency after. His aim is to achieve a first reading agreement in this parliamentary term. He then outlined the parliamentary timetable which is as follows:

16/02/09 – Report sent to translation*
09/03/09 – Discussion of draft report
12/03/09 – Deadline for amendments
31/03/09 – Vote in AGRI
May – Plenary
*The meeting with experts from the 3 sectors (industry, science and welfare) also takes place

He concluded by re-affirming his support for the commission proposal, and that his report will follow it in principle. He then once more stressed the need for balance in the report, as being too one-sided risks alienating support which will be needed if the report is to be successful.

From the European commission, Ms Astrid Schumacher, Head of Unit Chemicals in DG environment was given the floor as no members chose to speak. She quickly outlined the rationale behind the proposal, believing it to be one that could eventually lead to a complete ban on the use of animals in research. However, as this is not currently possible, the proposal aims to take into account new positions in ethical thought, as well as new technology.

She summarized the key points of the proposal specifying that the ultimate goal must be to replace all animals in experiments with the 3Rs, although they recognized that “the use of animals cannot be avoided“. The proposal lays high and ambitious guidelines for the remaining animals that cannot be replaced:

  1. All projects need authorisation after the inspection of the project and the establishment.
  2. There should be compulsory evaluation of all projects using animals .
  3. In order to minimise the administrative burden, the proposal mentions group authorisation or “lighter authorisation“, the decision on that will be left to member states.

(ADI has objected to “3” and is asking supportive MEPs to try to have it removed).

She stated her view that the existing directive includes language that is too political, and this has led to different interpretations by member states which has resulted in distortions in the internal market.

She was keen to point out that various stakeholders and experts from academia had contributed to the proposal, and that the third biggest ever consultation carried out by the commission had taken place, in addition to an impact assessment.

Two key elements form part of the proposal to adhere to the principles of the 3 R’s (Reduction, Refinement and Replacement). The first is that all projects using animals will require prior authorisation. The second is that a compulsory evaluation of the project will follow. Both measures will have to verify that the research is justified and carried out in the most humanely way possible.

Included in the proposal also is a ban on research using great apes, with the use of non-human primates restricted to research on life threatening or debilitating diseases.

The scope of the directive is also enlarged in the proposal, to cover foetuses and invertebrates.

Transparency is also of key importance, as is the need for non-technical summaries. In addition, the proposal includes new provisions to achieve better compliance.

She concluded by reminding the committee that the implementation of the revised directive will be left to member states.

Neil Parish came back in at this point to say that this is a highly technical matter, and he himself is seeking more information in order to arrive at the best report possible. He stated that he is looking forward to working closely with the European commission.

Jean Paul Denanot (PES, FR) on behalf shadow Rapporteur MEP Roselyn LeFrancois commented that the proposal has excessive reference to the market/trade, the aim of the directive is not free competition “free market of animals” but is essentially a proposal about guaranteeing animal welfare and quality research. He also questioned whether the restrictions on using non-human primates would be ‘problematic’ and was concerned about the 7 years before implementation. And Directive 86/609 is badly implemented to protect animals. The Commission drifts away from the main point that is better research.

Ms Schumacher returned to say that as the current implementation of the directive has led to market distortions, this is an area where the commission has competence, and hence it is necessary to keep this in mind. She echoed Parish’s earlier call for a balanced proposal that gives researchers freedom but at the same time considers the welfare of animals. She also reminded the committee that the proposal is based on 7 years of expert analysis and consultation.

Responding to a question from Neil Parish on when the next revision would be, she said that while the non-essential elements of the directive could be reviewed at any time through the comitology process, there is in fact a review clause in the proposal that would look to revise 10 years after implementation.

Parish concluded the debate by speaking of the ‘moral dilemma’ faced by this issue, and that at present it is the case that some diseases can only be researched by testing on animals. Due to the tight timetable, he strongly encouraged all parties to be as familiar as possible with the commission proposal as his report will not venture too far from it.

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