Brussels, 10 July 2002
At a conference in Brussels on 9 July, both the Commission and industry agreed on the need to reduce animal experimentation by introducing alternative testing methods, and both agreed that further cooperation is the key to achieving this objective.
Phil Botham from Syngenta central toxicology laboratory in the UK called for EU funding, particularly that available in the Sixth Framework programme (FP6), to be directed towards projects 'where there is a clear end point'. He insisted that industry must have some input into research carried out by universities so that they can ensure that the research meets the needs of industry.
'It [increased use of alternative methods] will only come through funding projects which involve researchers from academia and industry, who can ensure research is directed towards real needs,' said Mr Botham.
Mr Botham also questioned the belief by politicians that animal experiments can be phased out within 10 years.
'I believe it will take 10 to 30 years for some of the more complex tests, like those on cancer or effects of chemicals on an unborn child, to be phased out. We still require basic understanding in biology. We need fundamental research and you can't put a timescale on it,'
Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin also called for more coordination in order to replace animal experimentation with other methods.
'The Commission is committed to fostering the three Rs [reduction, replacement and refinement], including through its own research funding, but we can only get good results if there is a joint effort between scientists, national administrations, industry, NGOs [non governmental organisations] and European policy makers,' said the Commissioner.
The Brussels conference on 9 and 10 July was organised by the Commission in order to assess the latest scientific advances in the reduction of animal testing and discuss future research priorities.
As highlighted by Commissioner Busquin, the forthcoming EU Directive on chemical products is likely to reduce the availability of animals for testing. The implementation of the Directive, along with concerns about animal welfare make the development of alternative methods a necessity. Phil Botham underlined the substantial progress made in the last 10 years in reducing the number of animals used for non-regulatory tests. Computer modelling and in-vitro tests have developed significantly over this period and their use is increasing.
Mr Botham stressed however that it is currently mandatory to conduct a variety of tests on a number of products, and that regulations are becoming more stringent. 'There is a concern that there are chemical effects which haven't yet been identified,' he said.
Michael Balls, former head of ECVAM, the European centre for the validation of alternative methods, part of the Commission's Joint Research Centre (JRC), emphasised that it is not alternative methods, but advanced methods which are needed. 'We should be neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but realistic. We need to set targets and put all our efforts into achieving them,' he said.
Professor Balls also underlined the difficult nature of developing new tests. 'We cannot afford to make mistakes. There is a huge burden of responsibility,' he said.
Kees Van Leeuwen, newly appointed Director of the IHCP (Institute for Health and Consumer Protection), of which ECVAM is part, outlined options for the future. He announced that it is currently being decided where the FP6 funding available for the JRC will be channelled and talked of possible cooperation with the USA and Japan in the field of in-vitro testing, as there is a convergence of legislation in this area.
Mr Van Leeuwen also called for a more holistic approach to the development of alternative testing methods. Researchers should start by estimating the effects of chemicals, then move onto in-vitro testing, and finally use animals, if necessary, he said.
Under the Fifth Framework programme, the Commission funded research involving animal experimentation under the Quality of life programme, but the same programme also supported the development of alternative methods. To date, 35 research projects have received funding amounting to 43 million euro, and several more are expected to be funded during 2002. Projects involved the development of cell cultures as well as in silico (computer based) approaches. EU funded research results are systematically sent to ECVAM, which assesses the capacity of these new methods to enter into the validation process. Three alternative methods to animal experimentation and testing have already passed into EU legislation, and another 10 validated methods are in the pipeline.
Projects involving animal experimentation are still funded by the EU as there are areas where there is no alternative method, and because human life is more important than animal welfare, a Commission spokesperson told CORDIS News. He added however that such a choice is a question of values. He added that the Commission evaluates very carefully any project proposals which involve animal testing, and only accept this method if there is no alternative.
For further information in the activities of ECVAM, please consult the following web address: http://ecvam-sis.jrc.it/index.html