This guest post by Aamna Mohdin has been simulposted with EARA.
There is a new effort to ban animal research in Europe. The Stop Vivisection European Citizens’ Initiative, and its 1.2 million signatures, has been submitted to the European Commission and the organisers have now been invited to discuss their petition. The initiative calls for “the European Commission to abrogate directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and to present a new proposal that does away with animal experimentation”. The organisers will have the opportunity to present their ideas at a public hearing held by the European Parliament. The Commission now has three months (from March 3rd) to decide how to respond and explain their reasoning.
Stop Vivisection is the third initiative to be successful under the citizens’ initiative programme, where EU citizens are able to propose and amend legislation to the European Commission. First introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the citizens’ initiative programme attempts to make EU-law making more accessible and democratic. Each initiative must gain one million signatures across from at least seven member states, these signatures are then checked and validated by the Commission.
Stop Vivisection collected 1,173,130 signatures across 26 of the EU’s 28 member states. The majority of these signatures come from Italy – where anti-animal research sentiment has been running high -, and five out of the seven members of ‘citizens’ committee’ are Italian. This comes as no surprise as the anti-science movement continues to grow in Italy, with the government recently restricting the use of animals in research; forcing scientists to change the focus of their research or pursue their research elsewhere.
Among the misleading claims made by Stop Vivisection, the initiative argues that the Directive facilitates greater reliance on animal research. When, in fact, the Directive specifically requires that animal models are only used in research if no alternative is available. Regulation 12 of the Directive notes:
“The use of animals for scientific or educational purposes should therefore only be considered where a non-animal alternative is unavailable”
At the heart of the directive is the 3Rs—researchers must replace animals with alternative techniques when available, reduce the number of animals required in research, and refine procedures to minimise suffering.
In response to the initiative, over 120 organisations—including notable learned societies, patient groups and leading universities— have signed a joint statement supporting European Directive 2010/63/EU. The statement calls on the European Parliament to oppose the ‘Stop Vivisection’ initiative as repealing the Directive will damage Europe’s leading role in advancing medical progress, which human and animals hugely benefit from.
The statement is as follows:
Statement supporting European Directive 2010/63/EU (“Directive”) on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes
The European Parliament and Commission must oppose the ‘Stop Vivisection’ Citizens’ Initiative that is seeking to repeal the Directive and ban animal research. The Directive is vital to ensure that necessary research involving animals can continue whilst requiring enhanced animal welfare standards.
Research using animals has enabled major advances in the understanding of biology and has contributed to the development of nearly every type of treatment used in medical and veterinary practice today. Research on animals continues to be necessary to understand human and animal health and disease, and to develop and improve treatments for patient benefit across the world.
Animals may be used in research under the Directive where the potential medical, veterinary and scientific benefits are compelling and there is no viable alternative method. The use of animals for testing cosmetic products was banned across the EU in 2009 and the importation and sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals from outside the EU was completely banned in 2013.
For research using animals to be both ethical and scientifically rigorous, it must meet high welfare standards and the implementation of the Directive is key in achieving these standards consistently across the EU. Shaped by consultation with animal welfare groups, scientists and animal technologists, the Directive importantly embeds into EU legislation the requirement to consider the 3Rs when using animals in research. The 3Rs are:
- Replacement – methods which avoid or replace the use of animals;
- Reduction – methods which minimise the number of animals used per experiment;
- Refinement – methods which minimise any suffering and improve animal welfare.
Developments for alternative methods to the use of animals in research, such as use of human cell models and computer modelling, continue to progress and the biosciences sector must continue to drive these forward. However, alternative methods are not able to fully replace the use of animals at this time. For many diseases, including complex conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, which affect multiple organs, we must understand how the whole organism interacts, which means that research using whole animals continues to be essential.
We call on the European Parliament and Commission to reaffirm their commitment to the Directive. Any roll back from this would both undermine animal welfare and compromise high-quality research using animals. Such research is critical to advancing human and animal health in the EU and globally -and to maintaining Europe’s leading role in that endeavour.
It’s important to remember that although the petition passed the one million threshold, it still only represents less than a quarter of one percent of the EU’s population. It’s therefore vital the scientific community remains open about animal research and opposes initiatives such as these to protect both human and animal welfare.