Animal research

Strong Rebuttals to Efforts to Phase Out Animal Research – Let’s Talk Research

April 7and2022
Chris Petkov, Marcello Rosa and Renee Hartig

There was a resounding Nope recent efforts to phase out animal research in Europe.

As we recently reported, Switzerland has voted for the fourth time to outright reject an effort by animal rights activists to ban research on animals, including humans. Nearly 80% of voters said no to the notion of “popular initiative”. It turns out the notion wasn’t as popular as activists suggested.

What about other European efforts to phase out animal research?

Anti-animal research groups may think the UK is more susceptible to campaigns to end animal research and testing because the UK has a long history of animal welfare legislation. In 1876, 64 years before enacting laws to protect human children, the UK passed legislation to protect nonhuman animals, as we have written here.

The UK and EU, like all other countries conducting biomedical research with animals, have legislation that regulates research on animals. For the EU, this is Directive 2010/63/EU. Brexit notwithstanding, the UK is sticking to this legislation until it undertakes the arduous task of crafting its own guideline. The UK could also decide to stick with the EU Animal Research Directive, Brexit notwithstanding.

In 2015, the European Union heard and rejected a call to end animal research: Science at the time:

the The European Commission has rejected a request to abolish animal research across the European Union, claiming that it would harm biomedical research.

Image from Science article on the European Commission’s rejection of a call to abolish animal research.

The Commission had this to say in a response to the European Citizens’ Initiative. “Although the Commission shares the belief that animal testing should be abolished in Europe, its approach to achieving this objective differs from that proposed in this citizens’ initiative.”. Once again, it seems that the European citizens’ initiative does not reflect the majority of European citizens.

Vice-President Jyrki Katainen, responsible for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, said:

… a total ban on animal research in the EU would be premature and risk driving biomedical research out of Europe.

More recently, the European Commission heard arguments from another European Citizens’ Initiative, calling on the commission to phase out animal research and testing more quickly. The European Commission also rejected these arguments.

The European Commission’s response includes

…although the science behind alternatives is undoubtedly advancing, it is not possible to predict when scientifically valid methods will become available to replace particular animal procedures.

Image from the Council on Foreign Relations “How does the European Union work?” »

The full EC statement is available here. Several sources have applauded the European Commission for rejecting calls to phase out the use of animals in research and testing in the absence of alternatives to advance knowledge, medicine, human animal health and not human. Alternatives are and must continue to be developed, but it is not true that animal research can be replaced by alternatives at this stage or in the foreseeable future, the EC statement reads in full.

No time to indulge

Animal research remains important and provides societal benefits. Researchers and regulators also ensure that research is necessary before it is authorized and that it is conducted in the most humane way possible.

Many organisations, research institutes, scientists and biomedical companies provided important information to the European Parliament and the Commission to inform its decision. For this reason, the challenge of animal research has disappointed activists…for now.

While this update from the European Union is encouraging for biomedical progress, those who can appreciate the benefits of animal research cannot be complacent. Yes, the Covid-19 pandemic has made it clearer to the public the importance of animal research, including for vaccine development. Yes, recent efforts to phase out animal research have been emphatically denied, as noted here. Yes, scientific engagement remains important and has been shown to lead to a positive public perception of animal research.

But… we can’t assume that the next set of challenges won’t be successful. For example, outside the EU, a current review of the use of animals for research in the state of New South Wales, Australia, is being led by the Animal Justice Party and could be part of a long-term strategy to limit animal research.

If you believe in the scientific approach and the benefits it can bring, do what you can to support science every day. For example, go vote, reach out to your representatives to let them know how important biomedical research is, help tag scientific misinformation on social media with #FactCheckNeeded, and share your story here via a guest post on Speaking of research.

Let’s all roll up our sleeves to help.