GLOBAL: Alternatives to animal testing urged

Four international organisations have rallied together and signed an agreement that aims to significantly reduce the number of animals used in basic and biomedical experiments in commercial and basic research.

The Japanese Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods, the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, the US National Toxicology Program and Canada's Environmental Health Science and Research Bureau have signed the memorandum of cooperation.

The agreement is meant to strengthen the joint activities of the organisations in reducing the number of animals used in scientific and product testing, while speeding up development and regulation of alternative methods.

Anticipated results from the agreement include improvements in design and conduct of studies with increased opportunities for peer reviews of the alternative methods. Also, the deal foresees more efficient use of limited resources by pooling results of scientific studies into non-animal tests.

"Reducing animal testing, both out of concern for animal welfare and ethical issues, and protecting consumer safety are two major objectives of this international agreement," said the European Union's science and research Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

"I expect that European, American, Japanese and Canadian scientists working together will more rapidly identify scientifically sound alternative testing methods."

Dr Linda Birnbaum, Director of the US National Toxicology Program and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, added: "This agreement will help us achieve greater efficiency by avoiding duplication of effort and allowing us to leverage limited resources."

Every year, an estimated 12 million animals are used in scientific and biomedical experiments. Just two weeks ago, the European Commission released a report stating the use of non-human primates such as chimpanzees and baboons was still an integral part of basic and applied biomedical research.

But in another report released on 5 May, the European Parliament called for the use of animals in scientific research to be re-evaluated and restricted for ethical reasons. The report includes a policy that would significantly reduce the number of animals used in planned testing and would insist on compulsory ethical assessments to promote practical transparency in the research field.

Members of parliament also want an end to tests on endangered ape species and the capturing of wild animals for experiments.

* See US: Animal research helps animals too in this week's Research and Commentary section.