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Protection for great apes

Tom Feilden | 07:49 UK time, Thursday, 6 November 2008

At long last (they first threatened to do it more than 4 years ago) European Commissioners have published plans for a comprehensive overhaul of the rules governing the use of animals in medical experiments.

And at first glance it looks like a significant tightening of the legislation. Launching the draft directive Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said it was time to "....steer away from testing on animals. Scientific research must focus on finding alternative methods to animal testing".

Orangutan - Associated Press

The top line is certainly the ban on experiments on the great apes - our closest relatives - but the proposal includes important caveats....research involving gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans will still be allowed in exceptional circumstances (such as a serious pandemic threatening human health), and for the conservation of great apes themselves.

There are also stricter regulations governing the use of other non-human primates, measures to phase out the use of wild-caught animals, a significant widening of the directive's scope to include invertebrates; and a whole series of new rules governing the housing and welfare of captive animals in medical facilities.

Underpinning the draft directive is the principle of the 3R's - reducing the number of animals to a minimum, refining experiments to alleviate suffering, and replacing animals with alternatives wherever possible. It's an approach that has been pioneered here in the UK, and some are already referring to the plan as a Europe-wide adoption of "the British model".

That approach was given a cautious welcome by scientists here: The Research Defence Society's Dr Simon Festing called the draft proposals a "very good first stab", but warned against a significant increase in the bureaucratic hurdles facing researchers. The new proposals should promote animal welfare, but not compromise the good science we all want.

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More than 12 million animals are used in research across Europe every year, and animal rights campaigners have been lobbying for reform since the original directive came into effect in 1986. Last night the BUAV congratulated the Commission for seizing a 'once in a generation' opportunity, but criticised the loopholes in the ban on great apes, and questioned what commissioners meant by "transitional periods" when it came to the ban on wild-caught monkeys.

And for those who want to see an immediate end to all experiments involving animals of course, this is not so much a 'once in a generation' as a missed opportunity.


  • Comment number 1.

    I'm surprised that anything which involves "reducing the number of animals to a minimum, refining experiments to alleviate suffering, and replacing animals with alternatives wherever possible" has been called "The British Model". I know a few people in Britain involved in animal experiments, and the way they do their experiments one would think rabbits and mice are two-a-penny.

  • Comment number 2.

    I suspect that the "EU" is right on this occasion but even Hitler got one or two things right and I don't want the return of the Third Reich.

    On the whole the "EU" is rubbish.

  • Comment number 3.

    How utterly ridiculous. That's a judgement based entirely on sentiment and squeamishness, not morality. Proof of this is that animal activists only seem to care about animals which are cute, fluffy, or have some sort of appeal. The idea of moving research onto invertebrates is implausible, because while they do have less developed nervous and pain systems and might suffer less (but mainly they're just less cute and people care less bothered about them), their systems are so different from humans that for many tests, the information gained simply isn't useful.

    The point of animal testing is so that humans aren't tested on. As to what animal is chosen, it should be on a scientific/practical (i.e. expense) basis only. Morally, there is no difference between choosing a rabbit and a chimpanzee.

  • Comment number 4.

    It is a good start, but more needs to be done. only in cases where there is an absolute proven need to use animals should that be the route followed. Then only the least sentient animals should be used & only in minimum quantities.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is a good start, but more needs to be done. only in cases where there is an absolute proven need to use animals should that be the route followed. Then only the least sentient animals should be used & only in minimum quantities.
    The one sentient being of which there is a super abundance is the human animal.

  • Comment number 6.

    I am astonished by your extremely ignorant comment, xyz273. Animal activists do not defend animals because they are cute and fluffy and what not; activists are trying to stop animal testing because of the complete and utter brutality, and sometimes absolute unnecessariness of it. If you had done your research before saying what you had said, then you would know that animals suffer greatly when they are being tested on. They are often burned, cut, electrocuted, pierced, force-fed various products, etc., and in a lot of cases it doesn't need to happen.

    I also think your comment about using invertebrates because they are less cute is completely ludicrous. Animals are not chosen to be tested on because they are 'cuter' or 'uglier' than another.

    I myself am against animal testing. I think it is a good thing that we are making progress and moving away from using animals in certain experiments. In a lot of cases, testing is unnecessary.
    I do understand that for medical experiments it is harder because we do not want experiment with a human life if it may harm them; doing no testing can be a great risk to anybody who receives this untested medication. However, as more and more companies choose to minimize and even eliminate animal testing altogether, we are able to see that there ARE alternatives.

    I am trying to eliminate products in my home that are tested on animals. Any cleaning products such as shampoos, detergents, toothpastes, cosmetics, etc. that are in my home are cruelty free. It is only a start, but I am almost 100% cruelty free in my home. I have even found alternatives for some of the medications that I use and they are quite effective.
    A number of companies now state on the back of their products if they are cruelty free, and there are a number of resources on the internet that allow you to research which companies test and which do not.

  • Comment number 7.

    How different is the suffering of animals used in experimentation from the ones that we (or most of us) eat every day anyway? Many animals in research laboratories have better conditions than the ones being raised for our plates.

  • Comment number 8.

    That is absolutely not true. Animals in Laboratories live in very sad and terrible conditions with almost no care. This is the same for animals being raised to become our food.
    Both animals that are being tested on and animals that are part of a production line are abused in inconceivably horrible ways.

    I really encourage everyone to research what these companies are doing to these animals. (As well as those on farms).


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