Brussels, 03 Sep 2003
Whether it's on the farm or in the lab, few issues provoke such heated debate and public concern as animal welfare. A forthcoming EU publication delves into this sensitive subject.
Animal welfare is a life or death issue for animals, but in many ways also for humans. Its links to food safety and the development of treatments for life-threatening diseases, such as cancer and HIV, introduces another dimension to this touchy topic, according to the upcoming publication produced by the European Commission's Research Directorate-General (DGR) and entitled 'Animal welfare: on the farm and in the lab'.
Cutting back on the use of animals in laboratory testing has long been a goal of the European Union. The Union has approved strict rules on the use of animals in research and development, and funds research to develop and validate alternative methods.
Meanwhile, heavily publicised food scares in Europe in recent years, such as 'mad cow' disease, salmonella poisoning, dioxins, and a foot and mouth outbreak, have hurt public confidence in the food chain. Europeans look to scientists and policy-makers for assurances that animal products are safe to eat, but also that they are produced in a humane way.
Two sides to the coin
Russell and Burch's1 now oft-quoted 'Principles of Humane Experimental Technique' – reduction, refinement and replacement (3Rs) – might satisfy scientists whose job is to test the safety of new drugs and consumer products, but 'hard-core campaigners' see tests on animals as totally unjustified. Most Europeans favour alternative methods in general, but understand that experiments on animals are sometimes necessary to bring safe medicines to the market.
"Important advances have been made, not least the recognition in the Treaty establishing the European Community, that animals are 'sentient beings'. The animal welfare protocol, which was added by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, is a great contribution to the protection of animals as it obliges the EU institutions and Member States to take full account of animal welfare when drawing up new agriculture, transport, research and single market policies," concludes the forthcoming leaflet.
'Animal welfare' is one in a series of leaflets produced by DGR's Information and Communication unit to show European research in action. Previous series have covered a wide range of subjects including disasters, global change, antibiotics resistance, communicable diseases, renewable energy, recycling cars, aeronautics, and employment. Topics covered in the 2003 series include nuclear fusion, research for people with disabilities, floods, forensics, science and youth and, of course, animal welfare.