MEPs unconvinced by European Citizens’ Initiative on vivisection

The European Citizens’ Initiative “Stop Vivisection”, signed by 1.6 million Europeans, failed to impress MEPs at its parliamentary hearing. EURACTIV France reports

“Stop Vivisection” is only the third European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to have successfully navigated the many obstacles of the direct democracy process. After submitting a legally acceptable project, ECI organisers have a relatively short time in which to collect a million signatures. The organiser of an ECI on the minimum wage that failed to muster sufficient support said these are “insurmountable obstacles for networks that are not already well established on an international level”.

>> Read: Commission opposes European Citizens’ Initiative against TTIP

A debate is then held in the European Parliament, before the Commission decides whether or not the project is feasible. The vivisection debate took place on Monday 11 May in Brussels. Political support for the “Stop Vivisection” ECI was fairly thin on the ground, despite the large scale mobilisation of the animal rights lobby, both in the audience and on the panel of experts at the hearing.

“When I prepare a vaccine for a horse, I don’t test it on a parrot,” said André Ménache, a veterinary surgeon and representative of the ECI. The doctor believes that the current directive does not permit the exploration of alternative solutions.

Other experts, including the American Dr Ray Greek, shared this view. He questioned the usefulness of animal testing for human medicines. “No study supports the predictive value of animal testing. About a hundred AIDS vaccines have had good results on animals, and none of them have worked on humans,” the doctor said.

Imperfect predictive models

“Animals are not predictive models, yet still we continue to believe they are,” the doctor added.

The debate was heated, particularly when a researcher from the French National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) accused pharmaceutical laboratories of suppressing a cure for the AIDS virus. “We found a solution, but no laboratory wanted to support us because they make billions of euros selling anti-viral medications,” he said.

This argument was only picked up by the Greens and the radical left. Keith Taylor, a British Green MEP, said “I support the strategy of looking for alternatives to animal testing, and I ask the Commission to accept the principle of putting an end to animal tests”.

But representatives of the two major groups, the Socialists & Democrats and European People’s Party groups, oppose the ECI.

A disaster for human health?

The researcher Françoise Barre Sinoussi, a 2008 Nobel Prize winner, defended animal testing at the hearing. “Vaccines, which would not exist without animal testing, save two to three million lives a year,” she said. “We must realise that if we were to stop animal testing now, it would be a disaster for human health”.

French MEP Françoise Grossetête directly opposed the ECI. “I support animals, but I also support the legal framework of the 2010 directive. We had these discussions when this directive was developed. This law is balanced and will be re-assessed in 2017,” the UMP member said. “I prefer animal testing to be carried out in Europe, where animal welfare is controlled,” the MEP added.

The European Commission now has until 3 June to give its response, and is expected to fall back on the legal wording of the 2010 directive. Under the current law, Europe is bound to minimise animal testing and encourage alternative research methods. And the fact that it is due for re-evaluation in two years gives the Commission a good reason to resist calls to enter into a legislative process to eliminate animal testing in Europe.

The only ECI to have so far been validated by the European Commission is the Right2Water.

>> Read: Parliament gearing up for European Citizens’ Initiative review

Current legislation limits animal testing with a view to finding alternative methods that minimise "the suffering inflicted on animals".

But the use of animals is still permitted to advance research into human diseases, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimers and Parkinsons. According to Commission figures, 11.5 million animals were submitted to animal testing in 2011.

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