Over 1 million signatures on a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) are notoriously difficult to achieve, yet the Stop Vivisection ECI was answered in 2015 after reaching over 1.15 million validated signatures, and the Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics/End Animal Testing ECI which closed on the 31st August will enter the member state validation stage with 1,413,383 signatures.
In 2015, the Commission’s uninspired answer did nothing but reiterate, “While working towards the ultimate goal of full replacement of animals, Directive 2010/63/EU is an indispensable tool at the EU level to protect those animals still required.”
If true, this would send very worrying signals about democracy – shutting citizens and their elected representatives out of proper scrutiny of proposals that could mean millions more animals used in new tests.
What has happened to that goal over the years between these two ECIs? Though welcome, the 5% decrease in procedures in the EU between 2015 and 2019 (the most recent year for which there are figures) reflects a painfully slow decline; at that rate, it would take until the year 2065 before animal uses in the EU reached zero.
Not only this, but severe experiments have in fact increased by 11%, from 819,007 in 2015 to 907,830 in 2019. Outdated methods that should have been consigned to the history books years ago are still being used and, in some cases, are even on the rise; 2019 saw a 37% increase in monoclonal antibody production by the ascites method – a cruel technique deemed scientifically unnecessary by the EU Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing’s Scientific Advisory Committee in 1998 – compared to 2015.
European citizens have signed in huge numbers demanding a legislative proposal plotting a roadmap to phase out all animal testing in the EU
In 2022, we expect better.
The ECI calls for three related actions. Firstly, the EU’s cosmetics animal testing ban be protected and strengthened. Since the ban came into force, regulators have required animal tests on over 60 ingredients used solely in cosmetics. We would hope that the Commission, taking note of the clear view of citizens, will begin by putting in place immediately a moratorium on animal testing for existing cosmetics ingredients.
Secondly, it calls for a transformation in the way in which the EU regulates chemicals so that human health and the environment are protected without additional new animal testing requirements. This comes at a time when the Commission is preparing legislative proposals revising key chemical safety regulations, presenting a real opportunity to futureproof them to ensure they make full use of animal-free science. Yet worryingly, it seems likely that these proposals are set to significantly increase animal use over several decades. Questioned in May by members of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee about whether key changes that would impact animal use, for example, extending hazard classes, would be settled behind closed doors in comitology or subject to full political scrutiny, the Commission could only reply that they would ‘use the Treaty prerogatives at their disposal’, suggesting the closed doors option. If true, this would send very worrying signals about democracy – shutting citizens and their elected representatives out of proper scrutiny of proposals that could mean millions more animals used in new tests.
Thirdly, the ECI urges that we modernise science in the EU by ending reliance on outdated and unreliable animal experiments that impede progress and prolong the suffering of animals in laboratories. European citizens have signed in huge numbers demanding a legislative proposal plotting a roadmap to phase out all animal testing in the EU – echoing the stance adopted overwhelmingly by the European Parliament last year.
Animal testing persists despite mounting evidence that it is ineffective. 92% of drugs fail in human clinical trials despite testing safe and effective in extensive animal tests. This failure contributes to the huge amount of time and money it takes to bring a new drug to market, resulting in fewer safe and effective medicines for those who need them. Despite this, the EU’s 2020 Pharmaceutical Strategy barely mentions animal testing, let alone the need to reduce reliance on it.
Including the millions of animals who are bred for use in experiments but killed without ever being used, an estimated 23.5 million animals are used each year across the EU. Very few, if any, are essential to scientific progress. Many animal tests are scientifically flawed, curiosity-driven without the intention of direct societal benefit, duplicated or redundant – persisting because of habit and inertia – and could be ended immediately and without replacement with no detriment to society.
It is difficult to see how the goal of fully replacing animal testing will ever be achieved without a specific plan and sufficient funding, including divestment of EU research and innovation funds from animal experiments.
To maintain its status as a world-leader in innovation, safety and animal welfare, the EU needs a concerted and ambitious plan for ending animal testing. Let 2022 be the year when Europe moves from resolutions, words, and promises to concrete steps. Europe’s citizens – and the animals who continue to suffer in Europe’s laboratories – cannot wait.