Animal testing: Commission calls for co-ordinated research and development of alternatives

July 10, 2002

Brussels, 9 July 2002

"Reduction, Replacement and Refinement " the "Three Rs " - are the basic tenets of EU research and other policies concerning the use of animals in scientific e x perimentation and testing. To assess the latest scientific advances, reduce animal use, discuss forthcoming research priorities and ways to better develop research at EU level, the Commission has organised a conference in Brussels on 9-10 July. Over the last two decades, the Commission has supported research on, and val i dation of, alternative methods. Forthcoming changes in regulations on cosmetics and chemicals and growing needs in medical research are drastically increasing the expectations on science to develop alternatives to animal-based tests. "This is a challenge for the research community, but it also encompasses a major effort to better organise research and development investments at EU level " said EU R e search Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "The Commission is committed to fo s tering the Three Rs, including through its own research funding, but we can only get good results if there is a joint effort between scientists, national administr a tions, industry, NGOs and European policy-makers. With today 's conference, I hope we can mobilise all stakeholders to work better together, in line with the o b jectives of the European Research Area. "

New EU legislation in the chemical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic fields calls for validated testing methods. The new EU system for registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances foresees risk assessment for 30,000 chemical substances by 2012 at a cost of at least €2.1 billion. Alternative testing methods should reduce the need for the use of animals which, according to independent estimates, could amount to several millions over the next few years.

To date, three alternative methods have been passed into European legislation. Another ten validated methods are in the pipeline. Neurological research is a field where demand for alternative methods is particularly high. One Commission-funded project is developing the use of yeast to imitate the reaction of mammalian cells to neurotoxic substances. The conference takes stock of progress so far and looks at policy options for the future. To that end, it brings together a wide range of stakeholders, including researchers, industry representatives, patients, animal rights' activists, journalists, policy makers and regulators. Participants will review the state-of-the-art of science including the possibilities offered by genomics and other recently developed scientific tools. They will also examine current legislation, and tackle ethical considerations and growing public concern calling for limitations to animal experimentation and testing.

What are the "three Rs "?

  • "Reduction" aims to obtain reliable levels of information by using fewer animals, or by obtaining more information from the same number of animals.

  • "Refinement" alternatives focus on methods that alleviate or minimise pain, suffering and distress.

  • "Replacement" alternatives aim to gather equivalent scientific results without conducting experiments on animals.
The conference will open debates on the latest scientific advances and their impact on animal experimentation and testing; the Three Rs in practice; and the Three Rs in the current European and international regulatory context.

The conference is expected to help define:

  • the areas in which we can expect early validation of alternative methods.

  • where experimentation remains necessary.

  • how the EU can foster validation and international recognition of alternative methods.
Under the current EU Research Framework Programme, 35 research projects have received a total funding of €43 million. More are about to be launched. They include the development of cell cultures, as well as " in silico " (computer-based) approaches and non-animal based methods to assess the impact of environmental factors on health. The Sixth Framework programme (FP6 2002-2006), as approved by the European Parliament and Council in June 2002, will continue to support such research. FP6, designed to help create a true European Research Area, provides an opportunity to increase co-operation between Member States on this critical issue and to facilitate co-ordination of efforts at national level.

ECVAM the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, a branch of the Joint Research Centre is the Commission's in-house research facility which co-ordinates the validation of alternative methods to animal testing at EU level. ECVAM also has an active research programme, focusing on alternative test development as well as on training and mobility of researchers. At present, ECVAM is co-ordinating validation studies and carrying out research in several areas to validate better ways of testing or experimenting with chemicals (including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals) and biological substances (such as vaccines).

The use of animals in research is also addressed in the Action Plan on Science and Society which the Commission presented in December 2001. In this context, the Commission is ready to support efforts that contribute to improving the awareness of researchers on the principles of the "three Rs", with a particular emphasis on species that are close to human beings.

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