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ECEAE welcomes more information about animal experiments under new EU Directive

The European Commission has published details for how EU member countries should report to the public on the numbers of animal experiments conducted each year. 

The new format, decided during the negotiations over the new EU Directive 2010/63, was finalised by expert working groups organised by the Commission and finally agreed by officials last week. The ECEAE provided significant input into the discussions and argued for greater transparency on the number of animals used across the EU. As a result, the new format will mean that publically available reports will not only be made more regularly but will include more details on how animals were used and what they experienced. 

New information to be included:

  • Actual severity of the experiment experienced by each animal will be reported, in categories of mild, moderate, severe, non-recovery  . This is a totally new requirement for most countries, including the UK. Previously no information on how the animals suffered was given
  • All genetically modified animals who are considered to be suffering will be counted (previously most countries did not count genetically modified animals who were bred and not used
  • Countries will report the number of animals used each year (previously the minimum requirement was once every three years)

These and other improvements, listed below, are changes that the ECEAE also argued for on the basis that the public need to be better informed on the extent of animal testing in their countries. 

The changes will not take effect until the year 2015; until that time the usual statistical reports will be produced, the next one for the year 2011 being expected in 2013. The new format could mean that the numbers of animals will appear to rise, possibly by up to 40%. This is because of the new requirement to count genetically modified animals who at the moment are used by many countries but not included in their statistics.  . 

All EU countries will adopt the EU format as their minimum reporting requirement, which will mean more information will be available from countries such as France, that  have tended to provide only the EU minimum. It is not yet clear whether those countries that currently provide even more detailed information will continue to do so, although they are entitled to. 

The statistics will (still) not include all animals covered under the Directive 2010/63; mainly because researchers complained that to count them would be too ‘onerous’. The statistics will not include larval and embryonic forms, animals killed and not used (deemed ‘surplus’ to requirements), animals killed for their tissues, genetically modified animals not considered to be suffering from a harmful genetic defect , normal animals born as part of a genetic experiment but not carrying the genetic defect and animals who have been subjected to an experiment that is on-going (this can include non-human primates who are used in long-term neurology experiments) - these animals will only be counted when they are finally killed.

However, some of these animals will be counted once every five years for an additional report required by the Commission. Starting in 2018, every five years EU countries will have to report on how they license and enforce animal experiments, how many projects have been approved and retrospectively assessed, the numbers of animals bred and not used in procedures (and therefore omitted from the annual statistics), the number of genetically modified animals considered to not be suffering a harmful defect (and therefore omitted from the annual statistics), any exemptions granted, the source of non-human primates and efforts made to replace, reduce and refine animal experiments. 

The ECEAE has pushed for more information to be made publicly available and we are pleased that more details on the numbers of animals used in experiments will now be provided. The figures to be reported will be closer to the actual numbers of animals used each year although they will still not give a complete picture. We remain very concerned that the method used to assess the actual severity of the experiment and whether a genetically modified animal is suffering is very superficial and ultimately left up to the researcher to decide. Sadly, our experience is that researchers tend to underestimate suffering. Until independent monitoring is put in place the public is likely to continue to be misled not only on the numbers but the extent of animal suffering in the EU. “

Additional improvements that have been made that were requested by the ECEAE:

  • More details on the species of animal used, especially for primates.
  • More details on the areas of scientific research in which the animals are used. 
  • Where the animals were born (as opposed to where they were sourced which previously could be used to distort the numbers of primates who were born in Asia).
  • Clearer distinction between the numbers of animals used for human and veterinary research.
  • Clearer reporting of toxicity testing according to the type of legislation (cosmetics, chemicals, etc).
  • More details on the specific types of toxicity and quality control tests to enable better monitoring of efforts to replace animals in these areas.

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