Bioscience sector urges MEPs to safeguard research

25 March 2009

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Category: Policy Issues

Nine key UK bioscience organisations have signed a Declaration of Concern about revision of EU Directive 86/609, urging MEPs to take a balanced view on revision of European regulation of animal research. This balance must maintain 'the highest animal welfare standards whilst facilitating scientific progress' says Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

The signatories represent academia, industry, animal carers, charities and other research funders, as well as patient and medical groups. The Declaration is to be sent to relevant senior European officials and all members of the Agriculture committee in advance of their meeting on 31 March. The revised Directive will be the overarching law regulating all animal experimentation across Europe for the foreseeable future. It is of major importance to the bioscience sector.

The revision of the Directive is an opportunity for all sectors to advance animal welfare, minimise animal use and achieve a level playing field for regulation across Europe. It should also promote good science, a competitive pharmaceutical industry and the development of new medicines.

However, in the proposed draft put forward by the European Commission, there are significant new and additional restrictions to what is already the most highly regulated use of animals anywhere in the world. This could hinder research, stifle innovation, damage the pharmaceutical industry and delay the development of new medicines and treatments without improving animal welfare.

The European Parliament Agriculture committee is due to vote on the draft Directive on Tuesday 31 March.

Dr Simon Festing, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research, said: 'We are counting on Members of the European Parliament to take a balanced approach to improving animal welfare whilst still allowing vital, life-saving research to go ahead.'

Other comments today on the draft Directive from the UK Bioscience sector include:

Dr Sophie Petit-Zeman, Association of Medical Research Charities: 'As it stands, the Directive looks set to make some good contributions to animal welfare, but includes some proposals that defy belief. That’s why, on behalf of our member charities and the people they are there to help, we need to push the European Parliament to take a long hard look at the Directive so that research for patient benefit doesn’t get tangled up in absurd, illogical piles of red tape.'

Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust: 'It is vital that the revised Directive is proportionate and balanced in maintaining the highest animal welfare standards whilst facilitating scientific progress. We are concerned that some of the amendments as currently drafted will bring no animal welfare benefits, and paradoxically could lead to an increased number of animals used. There are many important research questions which improve our understanding of health and disease that can only be answered by research using animals. Such research must be allowed to progress in an appropriately regulated environment that maintains public confidence.'

Professor Roger Lemon, a neuroscientist working at University College London: 'Both the Recitals and Articles of the revised Directive must recognise the major contribution made by current research in non-human primates (NHPs). This applies not only to devastating diseases such as AIDS, chronic conditions such as spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease, but is of equal importance to our understanding of basic science. It is the translation of this basic knowledge that leads to improvements in both human and veterinary welfare. Blocking basic research in NHPs would seriously impair future progress and render the EU a scientific backwater in modern research.'

Professor Max Headley, veterinary surgeon and professor of physiology: 'I welcome the opportunity to update and improve the European regulatory framework for the use of animals in research, and the drive to increase the emphasis on the 3Rs and to improve animal welfare. However, the draft Directive as published last November contains some serious misconceptions. It would seriously constrain fundamental research using animals (particularly non-human primates), on which medical treatments are critically dependent. It implies that wildlife and veterinary research could somehow continue without the use of animals. And it proposes various regulatory controls even when they do not contribute to animal welfare gains. The draft also lacks critical features and contains important factual errors, inconsistencies and confusions. Happily, there are many amendments on the table that address the worst of those problems; we hope that MEPs will adopt those amendments that promote both good science and good welfare.'

Kenneth Applebee, Chairman Council, Institute of Animal Technology: 'The welfare of laboratory animals depends in the first instance on the professional animal technologists who care for the animals. In turn animal technologists in the UK are supported in their work by UK domestic and EU legislation. It is important that, as now, new legislation is robust and reflects recent developments in the understanding of laboratory animal welfare and biomedical research. In revising the EU Directive it is essential that the views of those professionals caring for laboratory animals is listened to, heard and respected. We depend on our MEPs to represent our informed and expert opinions and we look to Neil Parish to ensure the revision of the EU Directive 86/609 will not harm laboratory animal welfare, or unnecessarily constrain progress in biomedical research. Currently some of the proposals included in the revision are of great concern to the IAT and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.'