September 9, 2010

EU: Primates Now Protected From Testing

European Union on Wednesday ruled to ban animal testing on primates -- including chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans -- as it tries to scale back the number of animals used in scientific research.

After two years of intense debate on how to protect animal welfare without hindering scientific research, the European Parliament agreed to cut back the number of animal tests in Europe and enforce stricter regulations for animal use in research.

Under the new legislation, experiments on great apes are to be banned and strict regulations set on the use of primates in general.

Members of the 27-nation union have been given two years to comply with the rulings. They also need to "ensure that whenever an alternative method is available, this is used instead of animal testing." And they must find ways to reduce the "level of pain inflicted on animals."

The revision to the 25-year-old rules had originally envisioned a more complete ban on primate research, but were heavily contested and lobbied by industry.

Researchers argued that primates were crucial for work in finding cures for diseases such as HIV, Alzheimer's, cancer, hepatitis, malaria and others.

In theory, great apes can be used in such research, but in practice license applications face tough EU scrutiny.

Researchers feel a fair balance has been brought to the table.

"Today's agreement should bring direct and tangible animal welfare benefits and allow essential medical research to continue in Europe to deliver the new and innovative treatments," drug industry group EFPIA told Reuters.

More than 12 million animals are used in laboratory experiments each year throughout the 27-nation EU. About half are used for drug development studies and testing, a third for biological studies and the rest for cosmetic testing, toxicology and disease diagnosis.

The most common animal used in lab tests and experiments are mice and rats, accounting for 80 percent. Primates account for about 12,000 experiments per year -- or one tenth of 1 percent.

Researchers will now have to keep files on the history of each individual primate, dog or cat they use in the lab to ensure their welfare needs are met. They will also need to abide by regulations that state "Ëœwhen an alternative to animal testing can be found it must be used.'

Government authorities will be required to perform inspections on laboratories, some will be surprise checks.

The rules were met with mixed emotions from animal rights activists, saying they represented business as usual for laboratories in Germany and Britain, but might lead to improvements in eastern Europe.

The new regulations "sends a challenge to other countries such as the United States where chimps are still used" in research and testing, campaigner Wendy Higgins, of the Humane Society International, told Reuters.

Last year, the European Union banned the testing of animals for developing cosmetics, except for long-running toxicology tests which will be banned for good in 2013.