Reductions in the use of animals in biomedical research overall, but an increase in the use of monkeys and small mammals, has revealed the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic across the EU, according to a new Commission report.
The publication of comprehensive statistics for 2020, from across the European Union (EU), on the use of animals in scientific, medical and veterinary research has been welcomed by the European Animal Research Association (EARA), for its contribution to the debate on the value of this research. The headline figures in the European Commission report show that the total number of animals used in the EU-27 in 2020 was 6,527,912 – in 2019 the EU-27 figure was 7,451,392. The reduction is partially attributed to less research overall, due to lockdown restrictions and cancelled projects in the Covid-19 pandemic.
In 2020, 91.3% of the total were mice, fish, rats and birds, whereas dogs, cats and monkeys account for around 0.2% of the total – those percentage figures also include Norway.
However, the use of monkeys increased, in countries such as France and Netherlands, compared to 2019. This increase was due to project authorisations for the evaluation of Covid-19 vaccines and treatments. There were also increases in the numbers of ferrets, golden hamsters and guinea pigs for similar reasons. EARA executive director, Kirk Leech, said: “These EU statistics, on animal use in 2020, include many of the animals used in basic and pre-clinical research, as well as drug and vaccine testing to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, if scientists continue to come under pressure to stop using animals in biomedical research then significant progress in finding treatments for other vaccines, cancer or brain disease will be impossible in Europe.”
Around three-quarters (72%) of animal use was for research, including 41% for basic research, while a further 17% was for regulatory use to satisfy regulatory requirements, followed by routine production (5%).
According to the EU statistics, the top three EU countries for animal use in 2020 were Germany 1,494,563 (1,811,270 in 2019); France 1,477,344 (1,738,756 in 2019); and Spain 675,822 (748,961 in 2019) – last year the UK was in the top three. Since supplying their figures to the EU, some countries, including Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal and Spain have also published statistics for later years (see also EARA Animal Statistics tables). Separate figures were also produced to record the number of animals used for the creation and maintenance of genetically altered animal lines. Across the EU-27 (plus Norway) this was 686,628 in 2020 (659,418 in 2019). Most of the medicines we have now come from animal research. Often science doesn’t need to use animals, but for many key questions they are crucial. Animals are used alongside several other techniques such as cell cultures, human studies and computational models. These methods are used – often in tandem – to answer the key biological questions necessary to understand and treat disease. Before an animal model is selected, researchers must show that the knowledge could not be acquired using non-animal methods.
EARA, is the voice of the biomedical sector on issues relating to European animal research, working across Europe to promote greater openness and transparency. Currently in the EU, there are now Transparency Agreements in Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, including universities, research facilities and pharmaceutical companies. End Notes to the editor Animal research is strictly regulated under the EU Directive 2010/63. Every procedure, from a simple blood test to major surgery, requires individual, establishment and project licences, as well as approval from animal welfare and ethical review bodies. All organisations are committed to the ‘3Rs’ of replacement, reduction and refinement. This means avoiding or replacing the use of animals where possible; minimising the number of animals used per experiment and optimising the experience of the animals to improve animal welfare. However, as institutions expand and conduct more research, the total number of animals used can rise even if fewer animals are used per study. Since 2013, it has been illegal to sell or import cosmetics anywhere in the EU where the finished product or its ingredients have been tested on animals. Dogs can be used to test new drugs before clinical trials are conducted in humans, while monkeys are also used in drug testing and have played a significant role in research in AIDS and developing treatments for Parkinson’s disease, as well as the Covid-19 vaccine during the 2020-21 pandemic. Like humans, monkeys have a prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain involved in cognitive behaviour. This means that monkeys can help scientists understand how the brain works and help us develop treatments for neurological conditions like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and OCD.
The European Commission has now launched two open access ALURES databases, available for all interested stakeholders, to facilitate identification of areas where replacement and refinement efforts are most urgently needed. In addition, a second database publishes non-technical project summaries of authorised projects that provide further understanding of why and how animals are still needed in research and testing.
About EARA The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is an organisation that communicates and advocates on biomedical research using animals and provides accurate, evidence-based information. It has 143 member organisations, including private and public research bodies, universities, regional and national biomedical associations and suppliers, across 21 European countries and 28 in total across the globe.