Animal testing is ingrained in EU’s research practices

vivisection kills a lot of animals in EU

As the third successful European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI), the “Stop vivisection” initiative, was submitted in 2013, demanding a ban on animal testing for biomedical and toxicological research purposes in the EU. The question is, have the legal framework and common practices been changed since then?

Written by Sophia Stille // 10.09.2021

Is animal testing a common practice?

According to the organisation “Cruelty free International”, 23.5 million animals were killed for scientific purposes in the EU in 2017. It is common practice that new medications or other biomedical products are tested on animals, which either die during the experiments or are killed afterwards. This is often justified by the immense research progress that is achieved due to these experiments. This practice is also called vivisection, defined by the dictionary Britannica as an ”operation on a living animal for experimental rather than healing purposes; more broadly, all experimentation on live animals.”

To fight for the rights and protection of animals, the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) “Stop vivisection” was registered in 2012. Three years later, having collected more than 1.15 million signatures, it was deemed successful by the European Commission. The ECI mechanism was created to make it possible for citizens to get involved in EU policy-making. For an initiative to be successful, the organisers need to collect 1 million signatures from citizens of at least 7 different EU countries. If this is the case, the European Commission needs to consider the claims and present an answer.

Paradigm shift for animal testing

The organisers of “Stop Vivisection” demanded a “paradigm shift in the way that biomedical and toxicological research is being conducted”. Specifically, they called on the European Commission to revoke the directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. Instead, they demanded new legislation that does not base research methods on the use of animal testing. Furthermore, emphasising clear ethical objections to animal testing, they called for a framework that makes compulsory the use of data directly relevant for the human species. Lastly, the organisers criticised the directive, arguing it to put market and financial interests before animal welfare. 

More than 130 organisations, associations and parties in many different member states supported the initiative, for example animal equality e.V, tasso e.V. and Ärzte gegen Tierversuche e.V. (Doctors against Animal testing). However, voices against the aim of the initiative were also raised. More than 120 organisations, universities and actors of the industry signed a statement supporting the directive 2010/63/EU. They stressed the importance of animal testing in order to advance curing methods for diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s. While agreeing that animal testing should be reduced as far as possible, they emphsised that it is currently not yet possible to sufficiently understand how chemicals are broken down in the body using cells alone. The European Animal Research Association (EARA) stated that revoking the directive would damage Europe’s leading role in advancing medical progress.

animal testing is an integral part of the EU's scientific research practice

The Commission’s answer

In June 2015, the Commission published its answer, where it agreed that animal testing should eventually be phased out in the EU. However, the Commission stated that it does not agree with the approach proposed by the organisers of the initiative. According to the Commission, the directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (2010/63/EU), is the right legislation to achieve the objectives of the initiative. It contains a plan to fully replace animal testing as the the ultimate goal, as soon it is scientifically possible. Furthermore, the Commission proposed a scientific conference with experts and stakeholders to advance the phasing-out of animal testing, which took place in December 2016. Moreover, the Commission published a follow-up report in November 2017 to review whether the aims of the directive are being achieved, specifically taking into account the advancements in non-animal testing methods.

What’s next?

As one could reckon, the organisers were not satisfied with the measures proposed by the European Commission. However, it must also be said that many different actors, stakeholders and interests are involved in biomedical testing and research. Therefore, it will probably take many years and roundtables, as well as advancements in alternative testing methods to achieve a research world that is free of animal testing in the EU. The organisers of the initiative and the supporting organisations are thus still working on achieving a better protection of animals in scientific research. If you want to know more, you can follow them on social media or visit their official website. To stay up-to-date, visit our website where we will inform you about news regarding this and other European Citizens’ Initiatives.


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