TOUGHER controls on the use of animals in scientific experiments will come into force in two years after final approval by MEPs yesterday.
The new rules, compulsory in all 27 EU countries, strengthen animal welfare legislation but acknowledge the need for continued testing on animals until alternatives can be found.
Animal welfare groups had pressed for a blanket ban on animal testing, but greeted yesterday’s deal as a step forward, as long as it is fully enforced by national authorities.
Years of bitter negotiations resulted in a European Parliament vote endorsing moves to step up monitoring and control of animal experiments and laboratory conditions. The rules replace 24-year-old EU legislation governing the use of more than 12 million animals in EU laboratories each year.
There will be stricter scrutiny of the care and housing of laboratory animals, “ethical evaluation” before animals can be used, and increased efforts to promote non-animal alternatives for testing for medical research.
The use of animals in experimentation will have to be “fully justifiable” and the expected benefits must be shown to outweigh the harm caused to animals.
The tougher laws will particularly affect EU countries where only minimum standards currently apply, but will mean little change in countries such as England and Germany.
Eurogroup for Animals said the rules would ease the suffering of about 12 million animals used for research in Europe every year, but Eurogroup director Sonja Van Tichelen said it depended on proper implementation by member states. “We hope the decision will be the first step towards changing mindsets away from thinking that animals are always needed in testing.”
Emily McIvor, senior EU adviser on research and toxicology for Humane Society International, said the new rules meant proper scrutiny for the first time in many EU countries and the prospect of a future without animal experiments.
The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) described the agreement as a “missed opportunity”. Chief executive Michelle Thew said: “We are extremely disappointed that a real opportunity to improve animal welfare and place greater restrictions on animal experimentation has been lost. It is not only animals in laboratories who will bear the cost of politicians’ weakness and naivety – research into serious human illnesses will also be retarded because of the proven unreliability of so many animal experiments. This is inexcusable.”
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