Campaigners demanding an end to animal testing in research will confront lawmakers in Brussels with a one million signature ‘Stop Vivisection’ petition next week.
The petition has been organised by Italian groups Almo Nature and the International Organisation for Animal Protection, which will present their case in a public hearing at the European Parliament next Monday (11 May).
The petition is calling for, “The replacement of animal testing with more accurate, reliable, human-relevant methods.”
“It’s a very emotional debate,” said Philippe De Backer, a Belgian member of the European Parliament (MEP) who sits with the liberal ALDE bloc. “A lot of arguments have been dragged into it.”
Last year an EU law went into effect banning the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals and the organisers of the petition see this as a promising precedent.
Major science groups oppose the campaign. “The use of animals in research has facilitated major breakthroughs in medicine which have transformed human and animal health,” they say, in a joint statement with 122 signatories drawn from European universities, charities and drug companies. The potential benefits to health of animal experiments are “compelling”, the letter adds.
The campaign is making use of appealing images. The official Twitter account of the group, for example, uses pictures of puppies, kittens and rabbits.
If the campaign is successful, “Research using animals for the understanding and treatment of human diseases such as cancer, heart failure or Alzheimer´s would be banned,” warns Kurt Deketelaere, Secretary-General of the League of European Research Universities (LERU).
De Backer agrees, saying without animal trials, a lot of medical research would be seriously hampered, and additional risk would be passed on to human trials.
The MEP rejected the claim that animal welfare laws needed tightening. Current EU legislation obliges researchers to keep the ‘3Rs’ in mind when dealing with animals: reduction, refinement and replacement. The wording of the law says, “Researchers must replace animals with alternative techniques when available, reduce the number of animals required in research, and refine procedures to minimise suffering.” “It’s already very strict,” De Backer said.
In April, Research Councils UK, the umbrella group for the UK’s public research funding bodies, issued new guidelines for scientists applying for grants to carry out research using animals. A greater burden is now going to be placed on scientists to show their work will produce statistically robust data.
Stop Vivisection is the third initiative to be successful under the EU citizens’ initiative programme, where Europeans are invited to propose and amend legislation to the European Commission. Last year the Commission blocked a petition to halt research on human embryonic stem cells.
To be granted an audience in Brussels, each initiative must gain one million signatures from at least seven EU countries.
The group behind Stop Vivisection gained support from 26 countries, with most signatures taken in Italy, a country where debate on the topic is often quite charged.