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EU revises laws to better protect animals used in scientific experiments

The European Parliament has voted to revise legislation on animals used for scientific purposes.

The revised legislation, first proposed by the European Commission in 2008, will strengthen the protection of animals still needed for research and safety testing.

The new directive will also play a significant role in minimising the number of animals used in experiments, and require alternatives to be used where possible, whilst ensuring a level playing field for EU industry and enhancing the quality of research conducted in the EU.

European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said:
"Today's vote ends a long negotiation process, which has shown how sensitive and important the issues at stake are. However, everyone agreed that it is vital to improve the situation for animals still needed in scientific research and safety testing, whilst maintaining a high standard of research and improving the focus on finding alternative methods to animal testing. The European Union will soon have the highest standards of experimental animal welfare in the world."

Better standards
Through the revision of Directive 86/609/EEC the Commission has sought to strengthen EU legislation on the protection of animals used for experimental purposes.

Among the most significant changes which will ensure this are the requirement to perform ethical evaluations prior to authorisation of projects using animals and the upgrading of housing and care standards.

The new Directive covers animals used in education and training and basic research. It covers all live non-human vertebrate animals plus certain other species likely to experience pain.

The use of non-human primates is subject to restrictions, and the new Directive also introduces a ban on the use of great apes in scientific procedures.

Only when survival of the species itself is at stake, or in the case of an unexpected outbreak of a life-threatening or debilitating disease in human beings, can a Member State exceptionally be granted permission for their use.

Improved protection for experimental animals
At present it is not possible to ban outright the use of animals for safety testing or biomedical research. The revision thus seeks to ensure that animals are used only where no other means are available. T

heir use must be fully justifiable and the expected benefits must outweigh the harm caused to the animals. The new Directive would also ensure that animals receive suitable care and treatment such as appropriately sized cages and an environment adapted to each species. These provisions will be continually monitored.

For the first time legislation will make authorisation for all projects compulsory. Facilities wishing to breed, supply or use animals will be obliged to seek authorisation for their activities. Staff working with animals, in addition to being properly educated and trained, will also have to demonstrate their competence before working with animals unsupervised.

Finding alternatives
The "Three Rs" principle of replacing, reducing, and refining animal testing is firmly anchored in the new legislation.

The Commission strongly supports efforts to find alternative methods to testing on animals. Where this is not possible the number of animals used must be reduced or the testing methods refined so as to cause the least harm to the animals. In order to boost the development of alternative methods the new Directive will require the establishment of a Reference Laboratory at European Union level.

The Laboratory will be responsible for coordinating and promoting the development and use of alternatives to animal procedures, and continue the work so far carried out by European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM).

Member States are required to contribute in this crucial activity by identifying and nominating suitable specialised and qualified laboratories, as well as ensuring the promotion of alternative methods at national level.

Application of the new law
The Member States will have 24 months to adopt and publish national legislation which will transpose the provisions of this Directive. The new Directive will take effect on 1 January 2013.

Further information:
Commission webpage on lab animals:

Questions and answers on the new directive for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes