European Parliament adopts updated Directive governing laboratory animal use

On the 8th of September 2010, the European Parliament adopted Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. This replaces Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which had governed European laboratory animal use for more than two decades.

Although weakened considerably in comparison to earlier drafts, in most respects and for many European countries the new Directive nevertheless strengthens the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. It explicitly requires systematic, compulsory ethical evaluation and authorisation of scientific protocols. Likely harms to animals must be balanced against the scientific or educational validity, usefulness and relevance of the expected result, and 3Rs strategies must be utilised wherever ‘possible’ — a concept that is notoriously open to interpretation, and that remains widely abused.

The scope of the Directive is also broadened. Protection is extended from living vertebrates to include mammalian foetuses in their last trimester of gestation, independently feeding larval forms, cephalopods, and animals bred for organ-harvesting. The use of non-human primates is restricted — particularly in the case of great apes — although not prohibited. However, the latter may be used only in the case of an unexpected outbreak of a life-threatening or debilitating human disease, or when the survival of the species itself is at stake.

Notably, the new Directive specifies an upper limit of pain, suffering and distress, above which animal use is not normally permissible. Procedures resulting in severe pain, suffering or distress, which is likely to be long-lasting and unable to be ameliorated, are largely — although not entirely — prohibited.

The new Directive has now entered into force. It will become effective on the 1st of January, 2013, and European Member States will have 24 months (until autumn 2012) to adopt and publish national legislation which will transpose its provisions. Further information.