A public consultation launched in the UK on the European Commission’s proposed revisions to the European Union’s animal testing Directive, 86/609/EEC, “is not designed to take account of ordinary people’s views”, claims non-animal medical research charity the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research.

The Home Office’s eight-week consultation on ‘EU proposals for a new directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes’ will be used to inform the UK government’s negotiating position on the Commission’s draft revised Directive during discussions on the proposals in the Council of Ministers.

It comes after the European Parliament voted decisively on 5 May for a number of amendments to the Commission’s proposals that animal welfare groups have attacked as a sop to the biopharmaceutical and wider animal research lobbies.

According to the Dr Hadwen Trust, the Commission’s original revisions to Directive 86/609/EEC constituted “a future-thinking EU science agenda that combined responsible limits on animal use, including curbs on scientists’ freedom to use monkeys in experiments with no clear human benefit, together with support for cutting-edge non-animal research”.

Since then, though, sustained lobbying by the pharmaceutical and other animal research industries has “succeeded in chipping away at commitments to better protect animals”, the Trust complains.

Responding to the Home Office’s 62-page “technical” consultation, which ends on 3 July 2009, the charity urges the UK government to “do more to take account of the public’s call for change for animals in laboratories”.

When the European Commission held a public consultation on Directive 86/609 in June-August 2006, 93% of the 42,665 respondents said they believed more needed to be done at EU level to improve the welfare and protection of laboratory animals, it points out.

“Despite this, EU politicians have so far largely ignored public calls for reform and pandered instead to animal research industry lobbying,” comments Wendy Higgins, communications director for the Dr Hadwen Trust. “We urge the government to make every effort to genuinely listen to the British people’s call for change for laboratory animals, and to act when it’s time to vote in Brussels.”

Lively debate

In his foreword to the consultation, parliamentary under secretary of state Shahid Malik – who has since stepped down as justice minister in the row over MPs’ expenses – says he hopes it will provide “the basis for lively debate”.

One of the tests of a civilised society is its treatment of animals, Malik adds. “This is particularly true of animals used in scientific experiments and testing, and we firmly believe that it is essential for Europe to set high standards for their welfare, to minimise suffering and support high-quality science.”

Nonetheless, Malik continues, “we also remain convinced that animal experimentation continues to be necessary if we are to make improvements in healthcare, and to protect people and the environment from other hazards. These considerations require that we strike a balance in our approach to the legislation in this area”

The UK government’s key priority in negotiating the revised directive will be “to develop practical, proportionate and enforceable legislation that makes proper provision for the welfare of experimental animals, facilitates their responsible use, and can adapt to further technical progress”, he comments.

“We will also work hard to ensure that the new directive does not impose inflexible measures which add disproportionate or unjustified regulatory burdens and undermine the success and sustainability of European research.”