Brussels, 10 May 2005
An amendment to the law that would prohibit experiments on great apes is currently being considered in Austria.
Such experiments are currently neither requested or approved in Austria, but Education, Science and Culture Minister Elisabeth Gehrer believes nonetheless that a change to the law is desirable as it will send a strong signal on the protection of animals in Austria, and will put the country in a ground-breaking position.
The amendment would apply to research involving chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas.
'Great apes are the animals that are most closely related to humans. It is of particular concern for me that there is this explicit prohibition. This will ensure that no such animal experiments will be carried out in the future either,' said Ms Gehrer.
According to the Austrian statement, only Sweden and the Netherlands have thus far introduced or made moves to introduce regulations preventing experiments on great apes.
The European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) estimates that around 10,000 primates (includes both apes and monkeys) are used every year for scientific research in the EU. In 1999, the UK was the largest user of primates, using 3,191, Followed by France (2,322) and Germany (2,084).
Primates are used primarily as models of human diseases. The principal fields of research in which they are involved are: neuro-physiology; reproductive biology; contagious diseases (including AIDS, hepatitis A and C and malaria); auto-immune diseases; immune and neurological diseases; and the development and testing of new medicines and vaccines.
In the UK, a consortium of four research councils and organisations has established a working group to examine the recent, current and future scientific basis for biological and medical research involving non-human primates.
The inquiry, chaired by University of Oxford genetics expert Sir David Weatherall, will involve a rigorous scientific assessment of whether there are alternatives to using non-human primates in research. It is the first study of this kind to be carried out, and comes in the wake of numerous developments in biomedical science over the last decade, including the mapping of the human genome.
While the study has been welcomed by anti-vivisection groups, the British Union Against Vivisection (BUAV) has raised the worry that the groups involved may not be impartial. 'We are concerned that the organisations concerned have invested too much time and effort into using animals, and so will be unwilling to change to alternative non-animal methods, despite the evidence that using animals is failing, irrelevant and outmoded,' says BUAV.