Commission asks Ireland to comply with Directive on Animal Experiments

April 12, 2002

   Brussels, 11 April 2002

The Commission has sent a Letter of Formal Notice to Ireland asking for compliance with a 2001 European Court of Justice ruling with regard to the Animal Experiments Directive. The Court found that Ireland had used too narrow a definition of the term "experiment" and had also failed to put in place adequate penalties for people who breach the required safeguards. Ireland has not informed the Commission of any steps it has taken to comply with the ruling, which has led to this first written warning from the Commission. Commenting on the decision to send a Letter of Formal Notice, Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström said: "I urge Ireland to take urgent steps to bring its current 19th century legislation into line with EU rules on animal experiments."

The Animal Experiments Directive(1) aims to ensure that, where animals are used for experimental or other scientific purposes, certain common animal protection provisions are applied across the Community. The requirements of the Directive include controls on breeding centres for laboratory animals. It defines general and specific criteria concerning the housing of animals, restrictions on their freedom of movement, the close monitoring of their physical condition, measures that must be taken to prevent pain and undue suffering and the timely elimination of any physical defect of suffering that might occur. The relevant public authority must approve or register the centres, which must keep detailed records on the animals in their care.

Irish regulations used to implement the Directive are based on the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876. This legislation uses too narrow a definition of "experiment" which excludes, for example, genetic experiments that can cause animals lasting physical damage. In addition, the fines imposed as a deterrent to abusive animal experimentation practices are too small to be effective.

These problems in the legislation led to a Court ruling against Ireland on 18 October 2001 (Case C-1999/354). The Commission wrote to Irish authorities on 12 November 2001 to inquire how Ireland intended to rectify the situation. As no response was received within two months, the Commission decided the open Article 228 infringement proceedings against Ireland. This gives the Commission the power to act against a Member State that does not comply with a previous ruling of the Court of Justice. The Article also allows the Commission to ask the Court to impose a fine on the Member State concerned.

The Letter of Formal Notice requires Ireland to submit its observations by a specified date, usually two months. In light of the reply or absence of a reply, the Commission may decide to address a 'Reasoned Opinion' (or second written warning) to Ireland. If a Member State fails to comply with the Reasoned Opinion within a specified amount of time, the Commission may decide to bring the case before the European Court of Justice.

For current statistics on infringements in general, please visit the following web-site:

(1) Council Directive 86/609/EEC on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States regarding the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes

DN: IP/02/544 Date: 11/04/2002             

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