It's time for bold, decisive action from the EU to phase out testing on animals

We need an action plan, with high-level ownership within the Commission, to provide a much-needed impetus and help modernise medical research
CREDIT: Kristy Sparow at Getty Images

By Kerry Postlewhite

Kerry Postlewhite is Director of Public Affairs of Cruelty Free Europe

13 Sep 2021

In this week’s Strasbourg session, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have an unparalleled opportunity to support the acceleration of Europe’s transition from the use of animals in regulatory testing, research, and education to modern, animal free and human relevant science. Though the EU’s 2010/63 directive which governs the use of animals in science contains a commitment to achieving the final goal of full replacement of procedures on live animals, the text itself recognises that it is but an ‘important step’, and not a strategy. And it is a pro-active strategy that the 100,000 people who have signed a new European Citizens’ Initiative in just two weeks since its launch are demanding. 

In so many other important policy areas where Europe’s legislators want to innovate and move forward cohesively, the EU has action plans – especially where policy crosses sectors and is affected by multiple pieces of legislation: democracy; nature, people and economy; circular economy; financing sustainable growth to name but a few. Elsewhere, where legislators want to see fundamental change, they put in place milestones and timetables: energy efficiency; climate; gender balance on boards, for example.

In their resolutions, Plans and actions to accelerate a transition to innovation without the use of animals in research, regulatory testing and education, MEPs from across the political spectrum ask the Commission for a comprehensive action plan with proposals and milestones for phasing out reliance on the use of animals.

Animal use for testing chemicals under REACH continues to increase, despite advances in non-animal safety science over the past 15 years.

An action plan, with high-level ownership within the Commission, and drawn up with a range of stakeholders, could provide a much-needed impetus to replacing animals with human-relevant techniques, vital to modernising regulation and delivery in medical research and regulatory safety testing and pulling together work that is already happening. Whatever perspectives we may have on the use of animals in laboratories, this is suffering we all want to see end. We will undoubtedly disagree on what and when but let us agree that we need an EU Action Plan to speed up this transition, not only in the interests of the animals, but also human health and our environment.

The current reliance on animals causes untold suffering to millions of animals and is holding back progress. Significant differences in our genetic makeup and in biology mean that data from animals often cannot be reliably translated to humans.

The number of animals used in scientific procedures in the EU remains stagnant, and without a focused plan, the current trend suggests that we will be relying on animal experiments for the best part of the next century. No-one wants to see that. What possible opposition can there be to a concerted plan of action to make sure this doesn’t happen?

A 2020 poll carried out by Savanta ComRes for Cruelty Free Europe showed that 75% of adults in EU member states, thinks Europe should invest more in the development of alternative methods to animal testing, and 72% of adults agree that the EU should set binding targets and deadlines to phase out testing on animals.

There is a range of cutting-edge, non-animal methods that could be used in many areas of research and testing to acquire results that are much more relevant to humans.

Animal use for testing chemicals under REACH continues to increase, despite industry’s advances in non-animal safety science over the past 15 years. The application of modern science and technology, and the use of weight-of-evidence assessment approaches, are still not embedded in EU chemicals regulations. Under the EU’s new Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability, there are growing calls on the Commission to do much more to embrace modern, innovative non-animal safety science in place of outdated animal testing. This is even more important if Europe is to deliver on the ambitions of the Green Deal to lead on safe and sustainable innovation.

Around 92% of drugs that show promise in animal tests, and then proceed into human clinical trials. fail to get to the clinic. Mostly for reasons of poor efficacy and safety, that were not predicted by animal testing. While several thousand diseases affect people, only around 500 can be treated.

Evidence showing the outright failure and lack of human relevance of animal tests, has been widely published in scientific literature for critical areas of research, including HIV/AIDS vaccines, Hepatitis C vaccines, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Crohn’s diseases, stroke, motor neurone disease, cancers, brain injury, sepsis, depression, and many more.

There is a range of cutting-edge, non-animal methods that could be used in many areas of research and testing, to acquire results that are much more relevant to humans. These include the use of human cells or tissues, organ-on-a-chip technology, stem cell technology, and in silico (computer based) modelling approaches.

If the EU takes bold and decisive action to do what it has talked about for many years, it will stand the best possible chance of further enhancing its global position, as a leader in animal protection, harness the economic power of animal-free science, and crucially improve the lives of people and the protection of our environment.

 

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