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Over 10,000 primates are used in experiments every year in the EU due to their genetic similarities to humans — but it is precisely these similarities that make their suffering and use so unjustifiable. Even simply keeping them in a laboratory for months or even years is a deeply inhumane act, so great are their intellectual, emotional and social needs.
In the 21st century, we have a responsibility to do better. Ending primate experimentation is entirely possible with sufficient political will and strong, strategic leadership. And this is a critical time. Directive 86/609 which governs animal research across the EU is currently being revised. This presents a golden opportunity to end the use of primates in experiments — as a statement of principle. Already experiments on the great apes are expected to be ruled out within the revised Directive; the ECEAE believes that there is no morally consistent reason to stop there.
Many cutting-edge non-animal techniques have already replaced some primate use; others show much potential but lack support or investment. But many of the challenges that must be tackled are not technological but cultural, economic and even political. Like all animal experiments, the use of primates is deeply ingrained into the "way things are done".
Crucially, ending primate experiments does not depend upon identifying off-the-shelf replacements for every single kind of procedure in which primates are currently used, as some suggest. A battery of different scientific and policy approaches will ultimately be more predictive, ultimately cheaper, and of course much more humane than primate tests.
For years, the ECEAE and its member organisations have led campaigns against primate research. We have highlighted not only the shocking impacts of the experiments themselves but also the suffering caused by the international capture, trade and transport of primates to meet the high demand from researchers.
Now, we believe that the tide is beginning to turn. In 2007 a clear majority of members of the European Parliament signed Written Declaration 40/2007 which called for a phase-out in primate experiments. And in 2006, in response to the Commission's public consultation on the future of Directive 86/609, 82% of those that responded stated that they did not believe that primate experiments were acceptable.