EUROPE: Animal testing controls to be tightened

An agreement in principle on new rules for animal testing has been reached by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, affecting universities and commercial researchers. This will strengthen European controls over experiments on animals without apparently threatening any loss of research to countries with looser controls.

But the final legal text still has to be approved by a parliamentary committee and then by the full assembly, as well as by the EU ministerial council, so there could be changes before it finally becomes law next year.

Animal welfare has been among the leading concerns of voters in the EU in recent years and this is reflected in the relatively tough line taken by the parliament. Its members (MEPs) have also had to take into account warnings by industry that too strict a crackdown on animal testing could impair EU research efforts or drive testing out of the EU.

On balance it looks as though the animal lobby has mostly prevailed. The new draft legislation would reduce the number of animal tests and introduce a compulsory assessment for each experiment to safeguard animal welfare.

Elisabeth Jeggle, a German Christian Democrat who led the parliament's negotiating team, said: "We were particularly pleased to see that the council accepted our position with regard to inspections of breeders, suppliers and users of animals used for testing. A robust inspection system is essential to ensure that the rules we are introducing are complied with."

There is new language to ensure that "whenever an alternative, scientifically valid, method is available that does not use animals, it has to be used instead".

A ban on using great apes such as chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans for scientific testing has been broadly accepted but the text as originally proposed would also have restricted the use of other primates such as ouistitis and macaques, which could have hampered European scientific research on neurodegenerative illnesses such as Alzheimer's, and this has been struck out.