The European Animal Research Association (EARA) is deeply concerned by the implications for public health and biomedical research of proposals outlined today at a hearing in the European Parliament on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) petition, ‘Save cruelty-free cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without animal testing’.
The ECI petitioners creatively used their specific complaints about animal testing for risk and safety assessment of hazardous ingredients used in cosmetics and other chemicals, to demand the creation of a roadmap to end the use of animals in all biomedical research in the EU by the end of 2024.
EARA noted that in the hearing the proponents for a total ban believe that ending the use of animals will be a “win, win, win for science, society and animals”. The key implication, and one that has become common currency by the NGOs, is that what is holding back the full introduction of non-animal methods, or new approach methodologies (NAMs), across all scientific research areas is tradition and the ‘old-fashioned’ scientific methods of researchers.
At the hearing, where no life science representatives were invited to speak, EARA noted the absence of any reference by the ECI proponents to the fact that without the use of animal research we would have been unable to develop and deliver, at extraordinary speed, the vaccines that halted the Covid-19 pandemic. From their point of view, it was as though the pandemic and the unprecedented scientific response never occurred.
The scientific community should welcome any opportunity to take part in public discussions on the use of animal and non-animal methods in scientific research. We need to show that innovation is central to scientific practice, and provide evidence of where the transition away from animal models has happened, and will happen further. However, we need to be clear and honest with the public as to where the transition is still some way off.
Implications for brain research and wider life sciences sector
The European Commission has identified that millions of Europeans suffer from dementia, the most common type being Alzheimer’s disease. There is currently no cure or treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Donanemab is a biological drug developed by producing antibodies in mice. In trials, it has managed to reduce the rate of cognitive decline of Alzheimer's patients by between 27 and 35%. It works by modifying the disease itself rather than just relieving symptoms. It is too soon to say whether this drug is a game changer. But it is not too soon to say that under proposals outlined by the ECI petitioners, such use of mice would be banned.
A ban on the use of animals in research would also lead to the effective diminishing of the European life sciences sector. If Europe wishes to maintain its leading global role in research and development, and continue to create an environment attractive for life science investment (including the hundreds of thousands of jobs associated with scientific research and medical advancement), it would be self-defeating to shut the door to the large number of scientists and enterprises who see animal research as being essential to the discovery of causes, diagnoses, and treatment of disease and suffering in humans and in animals.
Unfortunately, the ECI call for a phase-out plan by the end of 2024 is not based on scientific evidence, but on emotion. The development of new drugs and surgical techniques will be dramatically impeded without continued animal research, with basic and fundamental research potentially coming to a complete stop. The ECI exaggerates the current existence of viable alternatives to animal models, and by conscious omission diminishes the role of animals in scientific research.
We are hopeful that the Commission will not be beguiled by activist groups into believing that non-animal methods of biomedical research can be universally applied to provide the safety, efficacy and insights that are currently gained from animal models.
As Pablo Arias Echeverria, one of the many MEPs at the hearing who challenged the wishful and naïve thinking of those calling for a total ban on animal use, said: ‘Let’s not base our decision on ideology alone, but instead on scientific arguments’.
25 May 2023
Further statements condemning the rush to animal research phase-out have come from the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany; a French/Dutch joint statement by AVIESAN and ZonMw; Biomedical Alliance in Europe; EU-Life and LERU; European Brain Council; German Cancer Research Center; Confederation of Scientific Societies of Spain (COSCE), Dutch Transparency Agreement on Animal Research, Science Europe and Infrafrontier.
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 23 European countries and 28 in total across the globe.