Written by Andrés García with Tobias Hoffmann.
A workshop organised by the European Parliament’s Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) entitled ‘The use of animals for scientific research in Europe‘ was held on 28 June 2022. The event focused on the EU action plan to end the use of animals in scientific research and testing.
The workshop aimed to open a constructive exchange of views between leading experts in related fields to discuss whether this fast track for animal protection can also become a major obstacle to scientific progress in the EU; and, if so, how to find ways to avoid this effect while ensuring the welfare of animals used in science.
STOA Chair Christian Ehler (EPP, Germany) welcomed the speakers and set up the scene regarding EU legislation. President of the European Research Council (ERC) Maria Leptin, then delivered some introductory remarks emphasising that animal suffering must be minimized ‘in research, agriculture and everywhere’. In her view, animal suffering must be always balanced against human suffering stemming from disease.
In her opening speech Laura Gribaldo from the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL-ECVAM, JRC), insisted on the principle of the ‘three Rs’, i.e. Replacement, Reduction and Refinement of animal use in basic, applied and translational research. She noted that this principle is also valid for regulatory purposes and already firmly anchored in EU legislation, full replacement of animal testing being the ultimate goal.
An open discussion followed, starting with statements from a panel of experts in the different areas concerned. Meritxell Huch (Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden) commented on the need to implement alternative methods to animal testing whenever possible, although to gain holistic understanding of processes that occur at the level of the entire organism, animal studies are required and unavoidable. Peter Loskill (Institute for Biomedical Engineering, Eberhard Karls University, Tübingen), agreed on that idea, but also empathised that, especially for academic research, physiological models based on human tissue are also needed. In his view, this could be already achieved today and help to reduce animal testing. He pointed out that often knowledge about suitable alternatives was lacking within the research community, and called for programmes to better inform researchers. Bart Haagmans (Erasmus MC, Rotterdam) then took the floor to comment on recent developments around the Covid‑19 pandemic. Here, animal testing had been necessary for the quick development and testing of vaccines and suitable medication. He emphasised that, nevertheless and of course, the 3R principle should always be followed. Karin Forsberg Nilsson from the Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology at Uppsala University, highlighted the importance of animal testing in neuroscience, since no suitable alternatives are available for complex tissues such as the brain. She further pointed out that no scientist makes decisions lightly on performing animal testing and that the use of animals has been reduced to a great degree in recent decades. Ana Isabel Moura Santos from the Animal Welfare Body at the NOVA Medical School in Lisbon closed this panel, expressing her view that further development of alternative methods would be the best way to reduce animal testing, rather than regulations or legal decisions.
STOA Chair Christian Ehler (EPP, Germany) then invited the audience (both in the room and online) to put questions to the speakers. Following a broad discussion on whether the scientific community is indeed doing enough to reduce animal testing in research, Mr Ehler invited the panellists and attendees to suggest policy options involving action from the Parliament.
In her concluding remarks, ERC President Maria Leptin welcomed the discussion and the fact that politicians are willing to listen to scientists and facts. She highlighted the consensus on reducing animal testing in research and reminded the audience that products used in alternatives to animal testing often require the use of animal products.
The full recording of the event is available here.
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