Lawmakers in the European Parliament have adopted a non-binding resolution asking the EU executive to come up with an action plan to phase out the use of animals for scientific experiments and tests.
The final text was formally adopted in Strasbourg on Thursday (16 September) with 667 votes in favour and only four against.
The requested action plan “should include ambitious and achievable objectives, reduction targets and timelines” as well as “concrete and coordinated actions accompanied by indicators, as are applied to other EU policy areas”, the resolution said.
The text ultimately consists of a set of suggestions to the EU executive and contributes to the debate about alternatives to animal testing.
The adopted resolution does not create any obligation for the Commission to act as the European Parliament does not hold the legislative initiative power in the EU system.
MEPs endorsed the so-called “3 Rs” approach to animal testing as the action plan should aim to reduce, refine and replace procedures on live animals for scientific purposes.
The “3 Rs” concept – on Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animal testing – was introduced 60 years ago by scientists W.M.S. Russel and R.L. Burch in their seminal work on “The Principles of Human Experimental Technique”.
Since then, the scientific community, NGOs, politicians, and even the general public have espoused the concept and developed it further.
Together with reaffirming the 3 Rs concept, lawmakers also want the plan to contribute to accelerating the development of alternative animal-free methods, technologies and instruments necessary for change.
Since 1986, the EU has been providing specific legislation for the protection of animals used for scientific purposes with the latest revision occurred 10 years ago now.
However, animals are still required to be used systematically for testing chemicals and in clinical trials as the existing framework has not excluded testing on animals as a last resort.
According to Commission figures, the use of animals for scientific purposes was reported 9.58 million times in 2017, most of them for research purposes (69%), followed by regulatory use to satisfy legislative requirements (23%) and routine production (5%).
Among the testing carried out for regulatory purposes in 2017, 61% of them involved medical products for humans, while 15% were concerning veterinary medicinal products.
More than 230,000 animal tests were also carried out in the EU to satisfy requirements under the regulation for evaluating and authorising chemicals (REACH) in 2017.
On the other hand, animal testing for finished cosmetic products has been prohibited in the EU since 2004 and for cosmetic ingredients since 2009.
For Dutch leftist lawmaker Anja Hazekamp, animal experiments are still used in many different areas of the Commission’s responsibilities, and a coherent approach is therefore essential to achieve safety and sustainability, without animal testing.
The Green Luxembourgish MEP Tilly Metz said that “there are no excuses to perpetuate the current level of reliance on animal experiments”, adding that an ambitious phase-out plan, with clear milestones and achievable objectives, is the next step needed to start reducing significantly the use of animals in science.
The socialist group in the European Parliament stressed in a note that the main scope of the resolution is to provide more options for testing, accelerating the transition to innovation for an animal-free science.
“Our resolution insists that where non-animal models for testing are available, they must be used,” the socialists wrote.
Animal welfare groups welcomed the positive outcome after having campaigned for the adoption of the resolution.
“With this historic vote, the European Parliament is calling for pro-active and coherent policies to phase-out animal experiments, such as preferential funding for non-animal methods, training scientists in new technologies and key regulatory changes to chemicals legislation,” said Troy Seidle, vice president for research and toxicology of Human Society International (HSI).
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]