The European Parliament has adopted a written declaration urging the EU to use the current review of Directive 86/609/EC as an opportunity to “make ending the use of apes and wild-caught monkeys in scientific experiments an urgent priority”.

The declaration, which also calls on the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament to establish, as part of the review process, a timetable for replacing all primates used in scientific research with suitable alternatives, attracted the signatures of 433 MEPs. This was well above the 393 needed – i.e., more than half of the Parliament’s 785 members – to secure formal adoption.

According to Animal Defenders International (ADI), which has championed the declaration, it was also the third highest number of signatures achieved by any declaration in the European Parliament since 2000. That made the written declaration on primate research the most heavily supported ever on an animal protection issue.

Written declarations do not carry any legal force but are used by MEPS to launch or relaunch debate on issues falling within the EU’s remit. A previous declaration on phasing out primate experiments in the EU, also backed by ADI, was launched last year but lapsed after failing to accumulate the necessary signatures from a majority of MEPs.

The latest declaration, which was launched in April under the banner of “I Am A Primate” – the declaration notes that almost all primate species share more than 90% of their DNA with humans – was sponsored by MEPs John Bowis from the UK, Martine Roure from France, Jens Holm from Sweden, Rebecca Harms from Germany and Mojca Drcar Murko from Slovenia.

It points out that more than 80% of respondents to the Commission’s public consultation on animal experiments in 2006 considered the use of primates as unacceptable. Over 10,000 primates are used in experiments in EU laboratories each year, the declaration adds. These include wild-caught primates, despite 26% of primate species being in danger of extinction.

There is also a scientific rationale for phasing out these practices, as “advanced technology and techniques now provide alternative methods that are proving to be more efficient and reliable than primate experiments, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging, microdosing, computer modelling or tissue and cell culture”, the declaration argues. Moreover, despite their genetic similarities there are “important differences between humans and other primates, and primate experiments cannot match the precision of human-based study”.

The legislative process for revisions to Directive 86/609, which provides for the protection of laboratory animals in research across all EU industrial sectors, is expected to start this autumn.