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March 27, 2009

EU Regulation of Animal Experiments

Humane Society International/Europe

1986 animal experiments directive

Legislation governing the care and use of animals for experimental and other scientific purposes was laid down more than 20 years ago under Directive 86/609/EEC. This directive—which is binding in all 27 member states of the European Union—stipulates that “[a]n experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available.” Further,“[i]n a choice between experiments, those which use the minimum number of animals, involve animals with the lowest degree of neurophysiological sensitivity, cause the least pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm and which are most likely to provide satisfactory results shall be selected.”

However, Directive 86/609 applies only to product-related tests using living, vertebrate animals. As a result, it broadly exempts all forms of “fundamental” scientific research, teaching and training, as well as experiments using non-vertebrate and foetal animals, which collectively consume many hundreds of thousands of animals each year.

The European Commission has been promising for years to revise this legislation to close loopholes, improve the protection and welfare of animals, and to prohibit the most painful experiments. Humane Society International (HSI) has been at the forefront in pressuring the Commission to publish a legislative proposal to set this process in motion. Read our political demands

European Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals Used for Experimental and Other Scientific Purposes

This Convention contains many of the same provisions as Directive 86/609, but is more elaborate, including specific guidelines outlining minimum standards of animal care and husbandry.

Animal welfare action plan

The Treaty Establishing the European Community [PDF] includes a Protocol on Protection and Welfare of Animals, which “recognises animals as sentient beings and requires that full regard is paid to their welfare requirements in formulating and implementing the Community's policies.” This Protocol applies to all areas of animal use, including agriculture, transportation, research and testing. However, given that EU policies in the field of animal welfare are currently fragmented amongst various Directorates General and Agencies, the European Commission has proposed a Community-wide Action Plan for the Welfare and Protection of Animals in order to clearly map out future activities in this area and to ensure a co-ordinated and coherent approach across the Commission.

In the context of animal use in research and testing, a 2006 European Commission working document [PDF] acknowledged the lack of coherence between EU legislation and Community strategies that mandate or sanction animal experiments and the animal protective requirements of Directive 86/609/EEC. The working document commits all divisions of the Commission to the philosophy view that the “final aim is to replace animal experiments with methods not entailing the use of an animal.” In the interim, “[f]urther work will need to be carried out to reinforce a full implementation of the 3Rs in all areas of animal use, ensure coherence between Directive 86/609/EEC and legislation requiring animal experiments, as well as examining in more detail the mutual acceptance of data and mutual recognition agreements as a means of reducing the numbers of animals used in experiments.” To this end, the working document outlines the following five broad areas as priorities for action by the Commission:

1. “Upgrading existing minimal standards for animal protection and welfare.”
2. “Giving a high priority to promoting policy-oriented future research on animal protection and welfare and application to the 3Rs principle.”
3. “Introducing standardized animal welfare indicators.”
4. “Ensuring that animal keepers/handlers as well as the general public are more involved and informed on current standards of animal protection and welfare and fully appreciate their role in promoting animal protection and welfare.”
5. “Continue to support and initiate further international initiatives to raise awareness and create a consensus on animal welfare.”  

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