– Douglas Adams
It had all been going so well. The path EU legislation must navigate is notoriously complex. Consultations, proposals, amendments – input from MEPs and compromises between national governments – the road is long and winding.
But for the EU’s directive on how animals are used in medical research, this lengthy process appeared to have produced a compromise which governments agreed would raise standards of animal welfare, reduce red tape by harmonising rules across Europe, and promote the 3Rs.
As European governments begin implementing EU rules on the use of animals in research, new figures reveal that the UK – a leading player in medical science – used more lab animals last year than at any time in the past three decades.
Some 3.8 million procedures were carried out on animals including dogs, cats, mice and monkeys last year, according to press reports.
The numbers are less important than the trend. The total figure is the highest since 1981.
A couple of months ago we had the privilege to go to Paris and interview Professor Jean-Claude Nouët, Honorary President and cofounder of the Ligue Francaise des Droits de l'Animal, éthique et science (LFDA).
During our two hours discussion, Professor Nouët touched on different aspects of the use of animals in scientific research, including alternatives and the 3Rs. We will be publishing parts of the interview over the coming weeks, however looking at your comments and questions over the past months, we thought the following topic was a good one to start with.
Central to the debate on the use of animals in research, is the legislation that governs it. And after more than eight years of negotiations, the 1986 legislation (Directive 86/609) overseeing the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, was updated and published in September 2010.
The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) has awarded two grants totalling almost £900,000, to Brunel University’s Professor Robert Newbold and Swansea University’s Professor Gareth Jenkins, funds that are to be implemented in fundamental research to develop new testing methods, based on human-cell structures, for cancer-causing chemicals, a move that aims to reduce the number of animals used in tests in the years ahead.
Advances in science will present some people with new dilemmas. What if new research methods mean more primate-based studies but using fewer animals overall?
The latest trends in biopharmaceuticals will make it possible to develop fragments of antibodies – some of which can be used as new therapies – without using as many mice or rats as would have been required in the past.
The early stages of research can be done using large volumes of cell samples and with the help of computer modelling, so we essentially skip the animal-intensive phase of early research where large numbers of potential therapies would previously have been tested on rodents.
Animal Testing Perspectives is a platform for open debate on the use of animals in biomedical research and testing. To get an clear picture of the opponents to animal testing, I asked a journalist to take a look at their arguments.
The public is uneasy about animal testing yet research advocates shun the spotlight
Animal research has been back in the news again as controversy rages over major European laws which have been recently revamped by Brussels.
It won’t be long now until the annual European Partnership for Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing (EPAA) conference which takes place on 9 November here in Brussels.
The EPAA is an independent platform which brings together the European Commission and industry groups to collaborate on implementing the 3 Rs Declaration. It has been running since 2005 and has done a lot to bring together people who don’t talk as much as they should – like companies and regulators, or scientists and EU officials.
Neil Parish MP talks through the tough policy choices during the revision of the lab animal legislation
We recently interviewed Neil Parish MP, the first reading rapporteur for the revision of law protecting lab animals. In our first video, Neil expressed the challenges he faced during this review to find the right balance between helping science advance, while protecting animals as much as possible.
For several years Simon Festing of Understanding Animal Research (UAR) has had the difficult job of talking about the benefits of using animals in research. During this time he has witnessed some of the most concentrated and violent animal rights protests towards individuals and research centres in the UK.
Animal testing and research dates back to the writings of the Greeks in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, with Aristotle and Erasistratus among the first to perform experiments on living animals. Avenzoar, an Arabic physician in 12th-century Moorish Spain who practiced dissection, introduced animal testing as an experimental method of testing surgical procedures before applying them to human patients.
Not being an expert in animal research and testing, it’s a foreign concept to me that a vet would be working at an animal research and development facility for a pharmaceutical company. But of course who better to be ensuring the welfare of lab animals? I recently spoke with the global animal welfare officer of a large pharmaceutical company, who has such a job.