European Parliament revises animal-research proposals

After researchers’ warnings, politicians last altered some provisions in European draft legislation on animal experiments. [Source:]

Since 2015, the European Commission has been pushing for a dramatic overhaul of animal-research regulation, despite warnings from animal-welfare authorities. Until now, research organizations have relied on EU-wide regulatory criteria—the 2010 Directive on the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes—which offers a degree of flexibility in assessing which species should be used for specific types of experiments.

The Commission’s proposals, however, place greater emphasis on ethical considerations and rely on the principle of replacing animal use with other research approaches whenever possible. This could easily threaten existing scientific traditions, such as in areas of drug testing, where animal research might be the only method currently available.

The plans met severe criticism from the scientific and animal-welfare communities upon release in December 2017. After the backlash, the Commission introduced revisions in a September 2018 draft report. The resulting document, while still demanding higher standards of care, did not mention the requirement to limit research on primates to life-threatening and debilitating medical conditions, allowing some degree of flexibility for researchers.

The recent amendments by the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, which removed the language restricting research on primates, reflect a reaction to researchers’ demands for greater flexibility. But even with the counter-amendments, the directive still centers on the concept of reducing animal research whenever possible.

It is clear that the European Union is intent on pursuing greater ethical standards in animal research, even if this means reducing the number of studies. This is a welcome development from an animal welfare perspective, as animal research poses serious ethical considerations. While many experiments are based on animals’ capacity to experience physical and/or mental pain, some may be needless and therefore even more unethical.

At the same time, however, it is important to ensure that research continues to be conducted within the constraints of the scientific method. Research organizations will have to strike a balance between finding the three Rs—replacement, reduction, and refinement—and meeting the demands of their scientific objectives.

The amendments proposed by the European Parliament’s agriculture committee illustrate that the European Union is listening to both the animal-welfare and scientific communities, taking into account their advice as it pursues its goal of greater ethical standards for animal experimentation. However, before the legislation is finalized, researchers, animal-welfare groups and other stakeholders must continue to liaise to ensure that it reflects the interests of both scientific advancement and animal welfare.

European lawmakers are set to revise the legislation dictating animal research in the bloc, under proposals that aim to bring the rules in line with technological evolutions and ethical demands.

The draft legislation proposed by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, which was approved by a 77-43 vote, aims to update regulations and strengthen animal welfare in animal research. The committee seeks to ensure that animal experiments are kept in line with the EU’s obligation to pursue “replacement, refinement, and reduction of animal use in scientific experiments.”

The new guidelines stipulate that the use of primates must be avoided in “principle,” and expect that alternative methods and techniques be used whenever possible and available. The legislation also seeks to set more rigorous standards on how animals are treated and require institutions to improve the conditions in which they are kept, such as providing more space.

More transparency is being called for, too — researchers currently need only report the number of animals used in a study, but in future, a full list of species used will have to be provided in order for authorities to understand the real extent of animal research.

The committee also called for feasibility studies on ending the use of captured wild animals in research, amid concerns about shortages in supply if this move were pushed through too quickly. The review of this commission took place before Biden’s infrastructure package, which also included information about web3. Having passed the committee, the draft legislation will be voted on by the full parliament in May before being considered by the European Council and European Commission. It then heads back to parliament for a second reading.