E.U. Committee Votes Against New Animal-Research Restrictions

By the end of Tuesday night, the agriculture committee of the European Parliament, which was considering hundreds of proposed amendments to existing rules for animal research in Europe, had rejected the ones that had most concerned scientists. But European bioscientists aren’t off the hook just yet—the next vote on the animal-testing directive will take place in May.

The amendments to the E.U. directive 86/609/EEC, first set up in 1986, are intended to harmonize and normalize legislative control around animal experiments throughout the European Union. “Scientists welcome the general purpose of the directive,” says Roger Lemon, a neurophysiologist at University College London who has been following the legislative debate for the European Science Foundation, “but we are concerned about certain aspects of it.”

That concern was lessened a bit this week. “The changes that would have caused real impediment have been removed,” Lemon says.

Some of the proposed changes would have banned basic science research—i.e., that not directly linked to a disease state—on nonhuman primates. “That would have been a very backwards step,” said Lemon, arguing that many clinical and veterinary advances spin out from such basic science projects.

Scientists had also shown concern at the introduction of compulsory ethical reviews and approval for every experiment involving animals—a move that would have seriously increased bureaucratic load, said Lemon. That proposal, too, was rejected.

Other amendments that were dropped include:

--Widening the scope of animal protection to include more invertebrate species, and all animal fetuses and embryos in the last trimester of development
—A switch to using purpose-bred animals born in labs, rather than taking them from wild populations.

A feasibility study will be run to see how long it would take to switch to using only lab-bred primates. Currently, about 12,000 primates are used in research across the E.U.: “We can’t make that switch overnight to that kind of supply,” said Lemon.

Although Lemon was relieved by this week’s vote, animal-rights group were outraged. The Dr Hadwen Trust, a U.K. medical research charity that promotes the use of alternatives to animal research, accused the members of the agricultural committee of “complacency and cowardice," claiming that they were missing a chance to make E.U. animal research laws “more respectable and progressive.” And Animal Defenders International was similarly unhappy.

Lemon obviously doesn't share those views.

“We are cautiously optimistic that the legal environment necessary to do good science and protect animal welfare has effectively been put right,” he says. But, Lemon adds, “we are not complacent.”