A report last year for the European Commission that found “no valid scientific reasons” to stop using non-human primates either in basic and applied research or in the development and testing of new drugs was “scientifically flawed and biased”, according to the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE).

The ECEAE has submitted a 26-page complaint to the European Ombudsman asking it to investigate the “deeply flawed and biased” report published last January by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER).

The European Commission’s Directorate General Environment had requested an opinion on the issue from SCHER in the context of discussions about revising Directive 86/609/EEC, which covers the protection of laboratory animals across all industrial sectors in the European Union.

The recent plenary vote on the Commission’s proposed amendments to the Directive in the European Parliament retained the right to conduct laboratory tests on primates other than great apes, rejecting suggestions that experiments should be restricted to “life-threatening or debilitating” conditions.

In September 2007, the Parliament adopted a declaration (0040/2007) calling on the Commission to end the use of great apes and wild-caught monkeys in scientific experiments, and to establish a timetable for introducing alternative research models. In response, the Commission said that, given the current state of scientific knowledge, it was not feasible to establish a timetable with a fixed deadline for phasing out the use of NHPs in biomedical research.

The ECEAE submitted its complaint to the European Ombudsman to coincide with the plenary vote on 5 May, which animal welfare groups regard as a substantial dilution of efforts to improve conditions for laboratory animals in Europe. The ECEAE called it “a charter for the multibillion-pound animal research industry to carry on business as usual, with scant regard either for animal welfare or public opinion”.

According to the Coalition, neither SCHER nor the working group it set up for the report had the necessary expertise in primate research, nor in alternative techniques. “Most of the working group members were animal researchers (but not primate researchers),” the ECEAE noted. And contrary to its own procedures, the Commission refused to disclose who was on the working group until after SCHER produced its report.

“SCHER simply assumed that primate research works without analysing the evidence”, ignoring the serious doubts cast by the “huge amounts” of peer-reviewed evidence filed by the ECEAE and numerous other animal protection and patient safety organisations, the Coalition added.

For example, it said, not one of the 85 or more candidate AIDS vaccines tested successfully on primates has worked in patients, while over 1,000 potential neuroprotective stroke treatments have been tested in animal models, but none of the 150 that progressed to human trials has proved successful.

Moreover, the ECEAE claimed, SCHER dealt “dismissively and cursorily” with the substantial amount of evidence submitted in favour of existing and potential alternatives to primate testing, including neuroimaging and computer modelling.