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In early 2008, the European Commission (EC) requested the Scientific Committee on Health and environmental risks (SCHER) () to formulate an opinion about the use of non-human primates (NHPs) to inform key decision makers in advance of the revision of Directive 86/609/EEC
The EC organised a call for evidence in May 2008 and also gave stakeholders the opportunity to submit comments on the mandate of the SCHER. The ECEAE responded to both consultations and sent one of its science experts to the public hearing held on 6th November 2008.
On 14th November, the ECEAE together with other animal protection and patient groups submitted a complaint to the EC regarding a number of issues on the overall process of the consultation and on the content of the SCHER opinion. The complaint with the SCHER opinion and consultation is two-fold:
The composition of the SCHER working group: only 4 out of the 11 members of the working group had experience of primate research – most were general animal researchers and only one had (refinement) experience in alternatives to primate research. There were no specialists in alternative methods to using primates (or even alternatives to medical research). Experts either had a background in the use of primates or were just general toxicologists/scientists.
The opinion was very biased from the outset and appeared to seek only to defend the use of primates. It failed to even mention the vast majority- if not all- the papers provided to the SCHER detailing evidence against the scientific utility of using primates or describing alternative methods. For example, one of the areas the SCHER was supposed to look at was the “usefulness” of primate research. Instead, it ignored evidence suggesting that primates were not as “useful” as SCHER appeared to believe. The SCHER conclusion was that primates were essential. The SCHER also failed to properly look at ways to reduce our dependence on them in the future, a key aim of the report.
Following unsatisfactory correspondence with the Commission, the ECEAE forwarded its complaint to the Ombudsman at the end of April 2009. A renewed complaint was sent in October 2009, after the EC was approached a second time for further information. The Ombudsman investigation has now started and is still ongoing.
Although the outcome of the investigation will have little impact on the adoption of the revised Directive (as its findings will be released after the revision process is complete), it will affect any future discussions on the use of non-human primates in research in the EU.