Joy and anger over European animal-research vote

Anti-vivisectionists decry amendments that scientists say will preserve Europe's research potential.

Researchers will be able to re-use animals in procedures causing up to "moderate" pain. Credit: Getty

Researchers have welcomed the alteration of controversial parts of draft European legislation on animal experimentation.

The European Parliament's agriculture committee voted yesterday to accept amendments to key provisions in a directive that will eventually set standards for all research on animals in the European Union (EU). The parliament will now vote on the amended directive in May.

Under the original draft of the directive, research on non-human primates would have been restricted to work on "life-threatening or debilitating" conditions. And researchers would only have been able to re-use animals if the procedures caused "up to mild" pain.

However, the committee has amended the directive to allow use of non-human primates in all areas of medical research. It also decided that animals can be re-used in experiments classed as causing "moderate" pain. Those working in the field say that this is crucial in allowing, for example, the surgical preparation of an animal and the subsequent actual research.

The committee also called for feasibility studies on how to end the use of wild caught animals in research, amid concerns about supply and the limited amount of time being allowed for the move to entirely captive-bred animals.

"Those are all very positive developments," says Roger Lemon, a neuroscientist at University College London. "Those were the three critical things for the future of non-human primate research. It is a victory for common sense really."

The changes were also welcomed by industry groups, who had expressed concern about the new directive. "We consider this as a step towards striking the balance between the protection of laboratory animals, biomedical-research reality and patients' needs," says Brian Ager, director-general of the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations in Brussels.

Bitter backlash

Animals-rights groups, however, have complained bitterly about the amendments. The Dr Hadwen Trust, a UK charity that funds non-animal techniques and campaigns against animal experiments, accused committee members of "complacency and cowardice for abandoning laboratory animals in the face of dishonest industry tactics".

“I do think fair-minded MEPs will look at the implications of what was adopted yesterday and will be prepared to think again. Emily McIvor , Dr Hadwen Trust”

Emily McIvor, the trust's policy director, accused industry lobby groups of "misleading" members of the European Parliament (MEPs).

"There's a growing realization amongst MEPs that some of the industry lobbying has really been very excessive," she says. "I do think fair-minded MEPs will look at the implications of what was adopted yesterday and will be prepared to think again."

She adds that the trust will be "looking to ensure an improved position is taken at the plenary in May".

However Neil Parish, the agriculture committee's chairman, insisted that the right balance had been struck, and cited the directive's focus on the '3Rs' of animal research: reduction, replacement and refinement.

"We all want to reduce, replace and refine, but we also know that in this world we need to have some animal testing and we need to make sure it can be carried out in Europe," he told Nature News.

If the directive is approved by the parliament, it will be considered by the European Commission and the European Council, who may make their own amendments. The parliament then has a second reading of the bill.

"We should get through [the first parliamentary vote] with, I'm hoping, a two-thirds majority," says Parish.

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Cressey, D. Joy and anger over European animal-research vote. Nature (2009).

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