Europe reviews primate rights rules

Proposed changes to laws governing the use of nonhuman primates in research moved one step closer to adoption when the European Parliament voted in favor of the revisions last May. The changes would allow studies involving monkeys but prohibit testing on great apes, except for experiments intended to help conserve these species or for investigating new outbreaks of life-threatening diseases. Now, in response to a complaint from animal rights lobbyists, European Ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandouros said in February that he will look into the drafting process behind the changes.

The complaint, filed last year by the London-based European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE), alleges that a European Commission scientific committee that presented data on primate research to lawmakers did not have sufficient expertise. The ECEAE also says that the committee ignored evidence supplied by advocacy groups and failed to adequately consider alternatives to animal use.

“They simply assumed that nonhuman primate research is valid—therefore, they approach the task planning to justify the research,” says Michelle Thew, chief executive of ECEAE. “It's simply unforgivable that the Commission has come up with such a one-sided report.”

But Simon Festing, chief executive of Understanding Animal Research, a pro-research advocacy group in London, dismisses such criticisms. “It's a last desperate effort from an antivivisection group that has failed in all its arguments,” he says. “Most people who read that report [by the Commission's scientific committee] find it scientifically compelling,” adds Roger Lemon, a neuroscientist at University College London who studies motor control in monkeys.

The legislation is expected to be adopted before the end of the year, although it will probably take another 18 months before European countries put the laws into effect, according to an EU spokesperson. The Commission has until the end of April to respond to the ECEAE's allegations.

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Dolgin, E. Europe reviews primate rights rules. Nat Med 16, 352 (2010).

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