November 5, 2008

Proposed Law Bans Testing On Apes In Europe

The head of Europe's environmental organization wants to put a stop to the laboratory testing on humanity's closest relatives: chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans.

This will be accomplished by a crack down on animal testing by the drug industry and other various laboratories.

However, various animal welfare groups and researchers blamed the European Union of hiding ineffective rules and regulations with empty gestures, as testing on great apes hasn't been done in EU research in six years.

"Today's draft legislation does include a great ape test ban, but as no apes are used in EU research at the moment, this is considered by many animal advocates as something of a token gesture," said the Dr Hadwen Trust, a spokesperson for Humane Research, a British-based charity that combats animal testing.

"It is absolutely important to steer away from testing on animals," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas. "Scientific research must focus on finding alternative methods to animal testing, but where alternatives are not available the situation of animals still used in experiments must be improved."

About 12 million vertebrate animals are tested on annually in experiments in the country: some for drug expansion and testing, some for biology lessons and some for cosmetics tests, toxicology and disease analysis.

About 80 percent are mice and rats, but primates account for a tenth of 1 percent of the tests, or about 12,000 animals.

If the EU's bid is successful, states must put into effect the revised standards of care for animals. However, this would only be used in a last resort situation and in smaller numbers.

Great apes could only be tested on if the continued existence of the species was at risk, or if an unforeseen outbreak of a life-threatening or devastating disease spread in human beings.

Researchers dispute that while they currently try to keep away from using primates for testing, they are essential for work in finding cures for diseases including HIV, Alzheimer's disease, SARS, cancer, hepatitis, malaria, multiple sclerosis and tuberculosis.

"The UK academic sector is concerned to ensure that any further restrictions on UK research resulting from the revised directive are based on firm evidence that better welfare will result," said Professor Max Headley of Bristol University.

"Overly restrictive or expensive regulation will not achieve that, since it will cause research to be moved from the EU to other countries, as is entirely possible in a global economy," he added.

Pressure group Eurogroup for Animals said the EU must act swiftly to perform the actions proposed or they will be in danger them being delayed by European Parliament elections in June.

Other animal rights groups have given the proposal a lukewarm welcome. 

"Animals used for basic medical research, education and training, have been left unregulated, and hundreds of thousands of sentient, fetal and invertebrate animals are experimented on each year without any legal protection at all," said the Dr Hadwen Trust.