The European Commission (EC) has responded to a campaign calling for an end to animal testing in the EU, saying animal testing is still necessary, but promising to accelerate efforts to reduce the need for animal testing.
In March 2015, the Stop Vivisection campaign submitted a European Citizens' Initiative to the EC, calling for the commission to repeal Directive 2010/63/EU and replace it with new legislation that would phase out animal testing.
A European Citizens' Initiative is a formal procedure for EU citizens to submit legislative proposals to the EC. To qualify, an initiative must have at least one million signatures, and meet a minimum level of support in at least seven member states. The Stop Vivisection campaign is only the third Citizens' Initiative to meet the threshold for submission since the introduction of the procedure in 2011.
Animal Testing in the EU
While the EC dismissed Stop Vivisection’s proposed legislative changes, the commission said it "shares the Citizens' Initiative's conviction that animal testing should be phased out."
Despite sharing the same "ultimate goal," as the campaigners, the EC says animal testing is still necessary in some areas such as applied research and drug development. In areas where "the toxicological or physiological processes and mechanisms are not sufficiently understood or are very complex, alternative solutions are not available."
To this point, EU legislation emphasizes that efforts should be made to "replace, reduce and refine ("the Three Rs") the use of animals used for scientific purposes." Additionally, the legislation provides a number of safeguards to ensure that animals used in research are adequately cared for and housed, and that harm and killing is minimized.
Other provisions prevent animals caught in the wild from being used in procedures, which are defined as anything "equivalent to, or higher than [the harm] caused by … a needle," and limit the use of non-human primates to "biomedical areas essential for the benefit of human beings," where no alternative exists.
The EC also points to other factors that have helped reduce the need for animal testing, such as scientific advances in toxicology and regulatory harmonization at the EU and at the international level which can reduce the need for duplicative testing.
In response to the Citizens' Initiative, the EC has listed two actions it will take to "accelerate the development and uptake of non-animal approaches in research and testing."
First, the EC says, it and other EU agencies will work more closely with one another to share knowledge that could reduce the need for animal testing or "minimize potential pain and suffering" caused by it. To do so, the agencies will "analyse technologies, information sources and networks from all relevant sectors with potential impact on the advancement of the Three Rs."
Second, the commission says it intends to "continue to support the development, validation and implementation of alternative approaches for regulatory and research use" of animals.