EU tightens rules on welfare of lab animals

The EU has agreed on new rules aimed at reducing the number of animals used in lab experiments and tightening controls over such procedures.

Euro MPs backed the new EU directive after long negotiations and EU member states have two years to make it law.

Labs will have to get approval from national authorities for animal tests and if recognised alternatives exist then they must be used, the rules say.

Animal welfare groups say the directive still does not go far enough.

The UK-based anti-vivisection group BUAV called it "a missed opportunity".

"The dropped proposals include strong restrictions on the use of non-human primates, strong restrictions on re-using individual animals, and a clear ban on experiments which involve severe and prolonged suffering," it said.

But BUAV said it was "pleased, however, that the [European] Commission has clarified that non-animal alternatives have to be used wherever they are scientifically suitable".

The new directive, approved by the European Parliament on Wednesday, replaces EU rules on animal testing that dated back to 1986.

Image caption The new animal welfare standards will have to be embraced by all EU member states

Now the new member states - mainly in Central and Eastern Europe - that joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, will have to embrace the new animal welfare standards.

The legislation imposes a general ban on the use of great apes, such as chimpanzees and gorillas, in scientific tests. But other primates such as macaques can still be used - a point on which the Commission was overruled by MEPs.

Measuring pain

The directive also sets out categories of pain, ranging from "mild" to "severe" - an innovation designed to prevent repeated suffering.

The re-use of animals will be allowed after tests involving "moderate" pain - though the Commission had proposed re-use only after tests classed as "up to mild" pain.

MEPs argued that re-use of animals helped reduce the total number of animals used. They were also concerned that Europe should not fall behind in research on chronic human ailments such as Alzheimer's.

According to EU data, about 12 million animals are used in EU countries' lab experiments each year.

The directive obliges national authorities to carry out regular inspections of labs that use animals - and some of the visits must be unannounced. The Commission will oversee these checks.

The animal protection group Humane Society International said the new directive would still not prevent "severe suffering" in certain types of animal testing.

But it voiced hope that other countries, including the US, would now "follow Europe's lead so that standards are improved globally".

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