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Lucas Warns Of Last Chance To Save EU Animal Experiments Agreement

Lucas Warns Of Last Chance To Save EU Animal Experiments Agreement

18 December 2009 - Greens in the European Parliament, including UK MEP Caroline Lucas, are leading a challenge to the proposed new European Union law on animal experiments [1] (an update of EU Directive 86/609) because of controversial amendments.

Their challenge is the last chance in the lengthy negotiations to prevent amendments that would weaken the legal requirement to use available non-animal alternative methods (in force in the EU since 1986) and restrict the ability of national governments to introduce higher animal welfare standards than those required under the EU law. The Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, the UK’s leading non-animal medical research charity, has supported the challenge, saying the amendments are “to the detriment of medical progress as well as animal welfare.”

Since the EU Commission’s original proposal in Nov 2008 to revise the 20-year old animal experiments directive [2], negotiations between the EU Parliament and Council have been ongoing throughout 2009. Many of the most progressive animal welfare measures have been stripped out in the face of intense lobbying by the animal research industry, most notably restrictions on the use of non-human primates and protection of some sentient invertebrate species.

However the most recent compromise text finalised after the last ‘trialogue’ meeting on 7th December, goes even further by removing the legal requirement to use available non-animal alternative research methods instead of animal experiments [3].

The EU’s Swedish Presidency has been keen to negotiate early agreement of the proposed new directive and MEPs were asked this week to give their verdict, with each political group in the Parliament having either to endorse or reject the text.

Many MEPs are dissatisfied with the compromise, but only the Greens/European Free Alliance group has publicly rejected the deal on offer and stated they are prepared, if there are no further opportunities to reach agreement through the trialogue process, to bring forward amendments at a plenary vote.

The Greens/EFA group has highlighted four requirements for agreement: – removal of the restriction on EU member states’ ability to continually improve animal welfare standards; preservation of the requirement to use available alternative methods; an end to primates being used for trivial experiments, and introduction of a requirement to develop strategies to replace the use of primates in experiments.

Dr Caroline Lucas, Green MEP for the South East of England, said:

“It is absolutely unacceptable that this compromise text fails to require the use of available alternative methods in all cases, something that for decades has been fundamental in giving legal impetus to humane research. The loss of this provision and removal of member states’ freedom to introduce stronger laboratory animal welfare measures nationally in the future is simply a compromise too far, and I am delighted that Green MEPs have been able to take a stand.

"The EU has an opportunity to lead the world in progressive animal research legislation, and yet the proposal doesn’t even protect highly sentient primates from trivial experiments and contains no strategy for phasing out their use altogether. This is not legislation fit for the twenty-first century, and I hope other Parliamentary groups will join the Greens in standing up for humane science when this comes to a Plenary vote."

Government Ministers from Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands publicly raised their concerns at a meeting of the EU’s Agriculture Council [4] on Dec 15. The UK’s position on the compromise is not known, and remains subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The House of Lords European Union Committee produced a report in November [5] supporting far reaching animal welfare and humane science measures, but the two most controversial issues – the ability of Member States to introduce stricter measures and the weakening of the requirement to use available alternative methods – were not at the time under discussion so have not been considered by those tasked with providing UK parliament scrutiny.

The Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research has been at the forefront of EU efforts to promote the development and use of alternatives to animal procedures through revision of the EU law.



Notes to Editors

1.       The existing EU law is Council Directive 86/609/EEC of 24 November 1986 on the approximation of laws and administrative provisions of the Member States regarding the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes.
2.        Proposals to revise Directive 86/609/EEC were published by the European Commission in November 2008 – the Commission’s proposals can be read here
3.       The compromise text will, if adopted: 
  1. reduce the mandatory nature of the ‘alternatives clause’;
  2. allow member states to delay implementing alternative test methods until they are ‘recognised by Community legislation’ – an administrative process that can take years;
  3. limit the scope of the ‘alternatives clause’ so that it no longer requires application of alternatives to all procedures, most notably those carried out for the purpose of basic medical research where the vast majority of animals are used; and
  4. result in member states such as the UK being prevented from raising animal welfare standards nationally in the future
5.       The Government must respond to the report by 10th January.