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January 18, 2011

HSI Europe: EU Must End Use of Discredited Animal Tests

Researchers unveil promising new non-animal method for toxin testing in shellfish

Humane Society International/Europe

Humane Society International/Europe welcomes the development of a new testing procedure with the potential to protect humans from seafood poisoning and spare hundreds of thousands of animals in laboratories needless agony and death. The scientific advance promises more reliable and much faster results, and may help to end foot-dragging European member countries in adhering to EU law.

Presently, 600,000 mice are forced to endure lethal testing in the screening of shellfish such as scallops, mussels and oysters for potentially deadly biotoxins. These tests continue even though they have been discredited by scientists, and despite the fact that non-animal alternatives have been used in countries such as Germany for decades. This latest breakthrough, using a “biosensor technique,” is another positive step for human safety and animal welfare.

Gemma Buckland, Ph.D., science policy officer for Humane Society International/Europe,says:

"Marine biotoxin tests on animals cause severe suffering and are also widely acknowledged to be unreliable, therefore putting consumer health at risk. The new biosensor technique is a welcome addition to a suite of non-animal tests that are already available. Any delay in implementing humane, faster and scientifically superior methods is unacceptable. In fact, delaying violates both the letter and spirit of the European Union’s law on alternatives to animal testing.”

Researchers at Queen’s University Belfast developed the new biosensor technique. It works by deploying so-called "detector proteins" that quickly identify toxins in shellfish. Results take minutes instead of days, and this may make the testing process feasible for shipboard use—a boon to fishermen, who could then speed their catch directly to market. The researchers aim to have a commercially viable product ready within 12 months, adding to and perhaps even improving upon the range of non-animal alternative methods that are already available.

Facts

  • Consuming contaminated shellfish can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, neurological problems and in extreme cases death.
  • In the conventional animal test—the “mouse bioassay”—a toxin extract is injected into the animal’s abdomen, which can result in uncontrollable muscle spasm, convulsions, paralysis, coma and death. The UK performs nearly 7,000 such tests annually, which are classified as causing the most severe level of animal suffering legally permissible.
  • European Union law prohibits animal testing “if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available.”
  • The scientific shortcomings of the mouse test have been widely acknowledged [PDF], and non-animal alternative tests are ready for immediate use, yet an EU Committee voted in November 2010 in favour of a new regulation [PDF] that allows Member States three-and-a-half years to phase out use of the animal tests.
  • The UK Government says it will ignore the phase-out option and implement non-animal alternatives swiftly, possibly even this month.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

Humane Society International/Europe and its partner organisations together constitute one of the world's largest animal protection organisations—backed by 11 million people. For nearly 20 years, HSI has been working for the protection of all animals through the use of science, advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide—on the Web at hsieurope.org.

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