Italy is not a happy place to be a scientist these days, in recent months we have witnessed the unjust conviction of six Italian seismologists who were made scapegoats for the failures of government officials, budget cuts that threaten Italian participation in groundbreaking physics research programs, and botched efforts to reform the administration of state research agencies.
Animal research in Italy has not been spared from these troubles, as efforts to transpose the new European Directive 2010/63/EU concerning the use of animals in research – itself the outcome of years of debate and extensive consultation with the scientific community – into Italian law have been derailed by an amendment submitted by the populist Italian politicianMichela Brambilla (a close associate of former Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi). The amendment, which was passed by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of the Italian Parliament, earlier this year, would not only inflict serious harm on medical research in Italy, but would actually contravene Directive 2010/63/EU itself, since the directive only permits EU countries have laws on animal research that are more stringent than the EU directive itself if such laws were already in place by November 9, 2010. If the Italian Senate passes this amendment Italy will be liable to pay fine for infringing the directive, but if the Italian Senate rejects the amendment it has to send the entire bill back to the Chamber of Deputies it will not be implemented in time to meet the January 1st 2013 deadline, and Italy will again face financial penalties.
If you are asking yourself how such a ludicrous situation came to pass, just take a look at the other examples at the top of this post, which show how little regard there is for science among many in the Italian political elite. The situation is exacerbated by the Italian media, which has for the most part been content to parrot the claims of a very vocal animal rights lobby, while scientists and veterinarians who have spoken out against the Brambilla amendment have been harassed and threatened by animal rights extremists. The situation was made worse when an Italian Court ordered that Green Hill, a beagle breeding facility in Italy which is owned by Marshall Bioresources Inc. , be seized on the basis of spurious allegations made by animal rights activists, and while the Court of Review rejected the allegations of mistreatment and returned the facility to its owners on 25 October 2012 it is still unclear if they will receive compensation for the unjust and unjustifiable seizure and dispersal of their dogs. Unsurprisingly animal rights activists have exploited the seizure in their misleading propaganda, and their claims have rarely been challenged by the Italian media.
Recently some Italians decided that enough was enough, and that it is time to take a stand against the tide of ignorance and misinformation that threatens the very future of medical research in Italy.
It is our great pleasure to introduce you to Pro-Test Italia!
On 31st October 2012 this new movement – inspired by the successful Pro-Test Campaign in Oxford and the Pro-Test for Science campaign in Los Angeles, was launched. Pro -Test Italia is an organisation that represents researchers, scientists and the educated opinion of private citizens who wish to defend the role of animal research as an indispensable tool to improve medical knowledge and, ultimately, save human lives. In order to do this Pro-Test Italia provides reliable information on the subject, which is important since the Italian media has been monopolized by animal right activists and their publicity stunts for years.
Pro-Test Italia aims to become a voice of the rational community in Italy and reduce the gap between the common perception of animal research and its reality, so that scientists and researchers are no longer excluded from a debate to which they can provide an enormous contribuition. Over the past month and a half Pro-Test Italia has gathered more than 2,000 followers on its FaceBook page, and a website is under development at http://protestitalia.wordpress.com/.
In their public debut, Pro-Test Italia members attended a meeting at the Italian Senate on 20 November as observers to a debate about the need for animal testing in the development of new medicines. There, IPSOS, an institute that conducts polls and statistic inquiries all over the country, showed the results of a new poll of Italian citizens’ views about animal research. This study revealed two important facts; firstly support for animal research in Italy is higher than animal rights organizations would have us believe (Animal rights activists claim more than 80% of Italians want animal research banned), and secondly that as soon as those questioned receive precise and unbiased information about animal research, their opinion tends to shift dramatically toward a positive view of the practice, from just 33% firmly in favour to 56% firmly in favour (with 21% undecided and 21 % opposed to animal research). These results should not be surprising, as polls in the UK also show that those who are best informed about animal research are also most likely to support it, and highlight the need for the Italian scientific community to made sure that accurate information about animal research is put into the public sphere.
The national scientific community was represented by some of its most illustrious members, from organizations including the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research and the Italian Association for the Science of laboratory Animals , who thoroughly and unanimously expressed their firm belief about the indispensability of animal research, and the meeting was also addressed by Nadia Malavasi of the TAI, Italy’s Thalidomide victims association, who wished to counter the false claims made by animal rights campaigners about thalidomide. Their opinion has been met with widespread agreement from the political delegations representing a wide spectrum of political views, including Sen. Rosanna Boldi, Dep. Maria Antonietta Farina Coscioni, Senator Carlo Giovanardi and Sen. Ignazio Marino, who also expressed concern about the threats and intimidation campaigns conducted by animal rights extremists. Pro-Test Italia recorded video of several of the presentations, which can be viewed below.
We at Speaking of Research are delighted to welcome our new friends in Pro-Test Italia to the debate, and look forward to working alongside them over the coming months and years to ensure that medical research in Italy has a viable future. That the situation in Italy is enormously challenging is not in doubt, but we have great confidence in our new colleague’s ability to meet that challenge.
Speaking of Research
Addendum 14 Dec 2012: This morning we learned that the Brambilla amendment (also known as Article 14) will not be passed by the Italian parliament, as a result of the decision to hold elections in February 2013. While it is good news that this shoddy amendment has failed, the bad news is that the EU Directive will not be transposed into Italian law in time to meet the January 1st 2013 deadline, which will result in Italy being liable for financial penalties for non-implementation. It is crucial that the general election returns Senators and Representatives who value and understand science, and we expect that our friends in Pro-Test Italia will join with supporters of science throughout Italy in order to make this happen.