Animal Aid

European Commission publishes its long-awaited proposal for revising Directive 86/609/EEC on animal experiments

Posted 7 November 2008

After nearly six years of consultation and discussion, the European Commission has finally published its proposed revision of Directive 86/609/EEC - the law that governs animal experiments across the EU, including in Britain.

While the proposal offers some improvement on the current 20 year-old legislation, it falls far short of providing the meaningful protection for laboratory animals for which the public and European Parliament had hoped. Despite repeatedly stating the need to ‘steer away from animal research’ and ‘focus on alternatives’, the proposal does not set any targets for reductions in the number of animal experiments carried out, or for the phasing out of specific tests. The few concrete measures that are proposed, such as a ban on the use of great apes and wild-caught primates, contain dangerous loopholes that could still permit these animals to be regularly used.

The biggest disappointment in the proposal is the Commission’s decision to ignore calls for an end to all primate research, calls with overwhelming public support and endorsed by a majority of MEPs. Instead, the Commission bowed to pressure from the research industry and defended the need for continued primate experiments.

Despite the shortfalls in this proposal, it is only a first draft and will now go back and forth between the Parliament, the Commission and Ministers of the Member States before it is finalised. We had anticipated that the Commission - composed of unelected officials and concerned primarily with economics and trade - would be unresponsive to public opinion and the views of the EU Parliament. But we must take heart from the knowledge that, through intelligent and energetic campaigning, a significant majority of MEPs have been convinced by the moral and scientific arguments against primate research and have called for its end. The research industry and the Commission have been forced to defend the continued use of primates with feeble and unconvincing arguments that deliberately ignore scientific evidence submitted by animal protection organisations.

The battle has only just begun. Animal Aid, along with other animal campaigners, will now marshal and consolidate our arguments and take them afresh to the decision-makers. To be kept up to date on the campaign and how you can get involved, subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.

Key points

The Good

  • The scope of the Directive will be widened to include animals who are bred and killed specifically for their organs or tissues; certain groups of invertebrates (including octopus, crabs and lobsters) and foetal vertebrates in the last trimester of their normal development. These animals are currently exempt from the legislation.
  • A ban on the use of great apes - chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans - although a loophole would still permit their use ‘in relation to an unexpected outbreak of a life-threatening or debilitating clinical condition in humans’. As no great apes have been used in the EU for more than six years, this loophole could actually lead to an increase in great ape experiments.
  • All procedures using primates will undergo a retrospective assessment to evaluate whether the objectives of the project were achieved and to report the numbers of animals used as well as the severity of their suffering. Animal Aid would like to see mandatory retrospective assessment for all procedures, not just those using primates.
  • The sourcing of primates will be more tightly regulated to try to reduce the number who are taken from the wild. However, the Commission has failed to set a deadline for the use of wild-caught primates.

The Bad

  • A complete lack of targets or deadlines for reducing the number of animal experiments or the phasing out of types of experiments, e.g. those causing severe or prolonged pain.
  • The refusal of the Commission to introduce a timetable for phasing out primate experiments, despite overwhelming public and parliamentary support for an end to primate research.
  • The option to have an EU wide database as a means to combat unnecessary duplication of testing, which was included as an option in the original consultation circulated to stakeholders, was discarded.
  • Several measures have been proposed to decrease administrative ‘constraints’ on researchers that could have serious negative impacts on animal welfare
  • Member States will be allowed to issue one licence for multiple projects for regulatory testing. Currently, each project requires individual authorisation.
  • Member States will be required to approve project applications within 30 days of receipt. If they fail to do so, authorisation will automatically be deemed granted for all procedures classified as ‘mild’ with the exception of those involving primates.

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