Radical plans that scientists feared would severely restrict the use of animals in research look set to be reined in after a vote by Members of the European Parliament.
On 5 May, MEPs voted to adopt a series of amendments that weaken, but do not destroy, proposals first put forward by the European Commission in November last year to update the 1986 European Union Animals Directive.
The vote followed strong lobbying, including from members of the UK’s bio-industry organisations and research councils.
The amendments adopted include a loosening of proposed restrictions that would allow research on primates only to aid “life-threatening or debilitating” conditions. Under the new plans, such research would continue to be allowed for medical research as a whole.
The rules governing pain classification would also be altered so that any animals used more than once in testing could be subjected to pain up to a “moderate” level, as opposed to the “mild” level that the commission wanted to impose to avoid repeat suffering.
While the MEPs said they supported the goal of ending the capture of wild animals for scientific research, they called for studies to check whether enough animals were being born in captivity for EU research purposes.
A ban on the use of great apes threatened with extinction – including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans – was endorsed, except for experiments intended to conserve the species.
“[The revised proposal] strikes a compromise between ensuring that research can continue in the EU and improving animal welfare,” said Neil Parish, the Conservative MEP who led the amendments.
The changes were also welcomed by Simon Festing, chief executive of the UK-based charity Understanding Animal Research, which defends the use of animal testing. He said that the intention was to “protect medical research as well as animal welfare”.
But the Dr Hadwen Trust, a charity that funds research into alternatives to animal testing, called it a “partial victory for humane science”, adding that MEPs had “failed to defend the defenceless” against some of the "least justifiable excesses" of experimentation.
The amendments will need to be ratified by the new parliament, which will be elected in June, before agreement is sought from European member states.