Proposed legislation meant to help protect the millions of animals thatsuffer in experiments is in danger of being significantly watered down, claims the RSPCA.

Tomorrow (March 31), the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee will agree its amendments to the European Commission’s proposed changes to the European Directive 86/609, which regulates the use of animals in research and testing. These amended proposals will then be put before the whole of the European Parliament.

The RSPCA fears that the committee will opt to weaken the way the proposed law will regulate the use of animals in experiments because of exaggerated claims that live-saving research will grind to a halt in Europe if the proposal is approved in its current form.

RSPCA senior scientist Barney Reed said: “This new law should be an opportunity to make real strides forward in reducing the suffering experienced by millions of lab animals. Instead, thanks to a scare-mongering campaign, this once-in-a-generation opportunity is in real danger of being lost.

“If pro-animal use lobbyists get their way, animals could be subjected to ‘prolonged and severe’ suffering, the use of chimpanzees in experiments could still be allowed, and – despite deep public concern – there would still be no strategy for ending the use of primates. These lobbyists are now also asking for improved standards for animal housing and care to be thrown out, despite the fact that people they represent helped write them.”

As MEPs are due to vote on the proposals soon, the RSPCA is urging members of the public to contact their local European Parliament representatives via its Give Animals A Voice website at: www.giveanimalsavoice.org.uk. People can also sign the RSPCA petition calling for the UK government to take steps to reduce animal use and suffering via the website. More than 60,000 people have already pledged their support.

Mr Reed added: “The scientific community often says that animal welfare is of paramount importance to them and that UK laws are the strongest in the world. Now European laws are up for revision, many of these same people are arguing against the inclusion of important controls that have been operating successfully in the UK for many years.

“They are even threatening to take their research to other countries where standards are lower if they are forced to justify the harm they cause to animals, have to spend money improving animal housing and care, and are required to be more open and accountable. Claims that animal welfare is a priority now sound decidedly hollow.”

The RSPCA believes it’s essential that:

  • All types of research and testing which may cause animals to suffer are covered by the legislation.
  • There is an effective authorisation (or licensing) process that considers the suitability of the facilities and the competence of people carrying out the experiments.
  • The ethical acceptability of every proposed project is rigorously evaluated. This should include the undertaking of a harm/benefit assessment that considers the lifetime experience of the animal. Procedures that cause severe animal suffering should not be allowed.
  • The use of great apes is prohibited, without exception.
  • The use of wild-caught primates is not allowed.
  • The European Commission sets up a permanent working group to define and implement a strategy to phase out all primate use.
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