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MEPs buckle under vivisection industry pressure 6 May, 2009

6 May, 2009

MEPs buckle under vivisection industry pressure

MEPs vote to support non-animal research but strip away protection from wild caught primates; and remove prior authorisation requirements for over 4million experiments

The ADI team have returned from Strasbourg today shocked as MEPs vote to reduce significantly proposals from the European Commission to regulate animal experiments across Europe.

Whilst some MEPs are presenting the amended Directive as a major step forward for animal protection, the reality is that several controls presented by the Commission were seriously weakened, and for most Member States it will be business as usual.

Notably, a Commission proposal for all animal experiments to require prior authorisation was overturned.  Instead MEPs backed measures that will require prior authorisation only for “moderate” and “severe” and experiments on primates.  This leaves an estimated 4.3 million experiments on animals that will not require scrutiny before being authorised – thus approaching half of the experiments in the EU do not have to be examined to assess whether a non-animal method might be available.

MEPs also delayed indefinitely a proposal by the Commission to phase out the capture of wild monkeys by breeding centres supplying European laboratories.  The Commission had proposed that after seven years all monkeys supplied European laboratories would have to be born of captive bred primates.

Tim Phillips, ADI Campaigns Director who was in Strasbourg for the vote commented:  “There has been a sustained campaign of misinformation from bodies only interested in a supply of cheap monkey regardless of welfare cost.  There is clear evidence of the horrific suffering of monkeys torn from the wild and also serious issues concerning depleting wild populations, and destabilising wild populations through the removal of large numbers of females.“

“Many MEPs have clearly buckled to pressure from lobbyists from the pharmaceutical industry and animal experimenting universities who are pressing hard for animal research to be unfettered by any regulation.”

Positive steps on replacements and bi-annual review

On the positive side, MEPs committed to increased funding of the development of replacements to animal experiments and expansion of the scope of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods.

Tim Phillips:  “It is a great shame that as MEPs made these very good commitments, they simultaneously removed the mechanisms that would most ensure their effective implementation – reducing requirements for prior authorisation and retrospective review.  We may be developing the alternatives, but will they ever be used instead of animals.”

An ADI campaign since January for bi-annual thematic review of animal experiments bore fruit.  ADI sought a mechanism to regularly review areas of research and set targets for the implementation of alternatives wherever possible.  The proposals gained support as the Directive moved through Committee and gained the backing of the Parliament and Commission this week.

MEPs voted for biannual thematic review specifically of primate experiments and also for all animal experiments.  Stakeholders will be able to input the areas where the case for replacement is strongest.  The review will be able to address implementation.

Tim Phillips:  “This will be the first time a legal mechanism has been established to look at areas of animal research that can be replaced and then establish timetables for these methods to be implemented across Europe.  Whether it is small or large numbers of animals at a time, we could be looking at a steady phase out of animal experiments.  This could be the most important thing to come from this vote in Strasbourg – animals lives could actually be saved thanks to these amendments.”

High hopes for tough regulation dashed

For the first time in two decades, the Directive governing animal research and testing throughout the EU (known as Directive 86/609) is being revised.  So, when the European Commission proposals were, in some instances, progressive it was hoped that MEPs would respect the will of the public and seek to strengthen this and take the measures further.
It is accepted that the UK’s 23 year old Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act has put in place many regulatory mechanisms but has had very limited success ensuring the level of husbandry or restrictions on animal experimentation the public have been led to expect.  It had been hoped that the EU Directive would raise the bar again, addressing the failings of the best European regulation.  In the end MEPs voted for proposals which fall a long way short of what has been in place in the UK and several other member states for years.
Indeed the campaign by the UK animal experimentation Community for such low standards across Europe is seen as a warning that there may now be an attempt to roll back UK laboratory animal protection.

Primate facts

  • Over 10,000 primates die in European labs each year and an estimated 10% of EU lab primates are taken from the wild.
  • Nearly half (48%) of the world’s primates are in danger of extinction according to the ICUN. The extinction threat nearly doubled in a year – from 26% in 2007.
  • Primates are important to the health of their surrounding ecosystems. Through the dispersal of seeds and other interactions with their environments, primates help support a wide range of plant and animal life in the world’s tropical forests. Healthy forests provide vital resources for local human populations, and also absorb and store carbon dioxide that causes climate change.

The full investigative ADI video ‘Save The Primates’ is available to watch here.

‘Primate Testing in Europe – A report on the use of primates in regulatory testing in a typical European commercial testing laboratory’ (full) is available here in pdf.

The ADI/NAVS ‘Vision for Europe’ report, giving a breakdown of the proposals and calls for amendments, is available here.

In September 2007, the European Parliament adopted a Declaration co-originated by ADI calling for bans on the use of wild-caught primates and great apes, along with a timetable for phasing out the use of all primates in experiments. 55% of MEPs signed the Declaration, making it the most supported on an animal protection matter ever.

The full text of Written Declaration 40 and details of MEP signatories supporting a timetable to phase out all primate tests is available here.

The full text of the proposal to revise 86 609 EEC (released on November 5th, 2008) which governs the rules on all animal testing across Europe is available here.

MEPs support ban on primate experiments

Mike Nattrass West Midlands UKIP MEP said: “I am totally against the use of primates or any other animals in experiments and will be voting against the revision of Directive 86/609 unless this includes a total ban on the use of primates in experiments.”

“If experiments must continue then let us see the justification.  If those who do these things to living creatures are made aware of the powerful feelings to defend these lives then perhaps they will be less gung ho and show more respect.”

Scottish Labour MEP David Martin is horrified at the latest statistics: “The latest EU figures show that 10,451 primates were used in the EU in 2005 for research, drug development and safety testing. 3,125 primates were used in Great Britain alone last year. Shockingly, Scotland is the primate experimentation centre of the EU with more experiments conducted per head of population than in any other country. 952 primates (30.5% of GB total) were used in 1,213 procedures in Scotland in 2007.”

“The use of primates in experiments raises both ethical and scientific concerns.”

“Primates attract particular concern because their advanced cognitive skills and high-level social and behavioural repertoire mean they are capable of experiencing intense physical or mental suffering, which adds significantly to the case against using them in experiments. It remains impossible to capture and breed these sentient beings, transport them halfway across the world in some cases, and keep and use them in laboratories, without seriously compromising their physical and psychological health.”

Brian Simpson Labour MEP for the North West agrees: “My position has always been one of opposing experiments on animals. However, we need to ensure that any such experiments are strictly controlled, that no primates caught in the wild can be used and that any use of offspring from wild caught primates is phased out within 7 years.

“Also we must now make every effort to find alternative methods for research that enables us to instigate a complete ban on animal experimentation as soon as possible.“

Scientists argue against animal experiments

Geoffrey J Pilkington BSc PhD CBiol FIBiol FRCPath, Professor of Cellular & Molecular Neuro-oncology, School of Pharmacy & Biomedical Sciences at University of Portsmouth says:

“In brain tumour research it is clear that the development of three-dimensional tissue culture models, which utilise both cells and serum of human origin, offer a real alternative to some of the established laboratory animal models which have been found to be wanting when clinical translation to the disease in man is considered.”

Technology has replaced the use of animals in pharmacology, as Professor of E-Learning at Edinburgh University, David Dewhurst points out:

‘Over the last twenty years e-learning has transformed the way in which university students are taught and supported in their learning.  For many students it is even possible to replace laboratory-based practical classes in disciplines such as pharmacology and physiology by computer-based learning programs which have been shown to offer effective alternatives to traditional teaching methods – similar learning objectives are achieved, costs are often lower, students are happy and unnecessary use of animals is reduced.’

Watch our Save the Primates Video

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