On 18 October 2018, two French members of the European Parliament – Younous Omarjee and Pascal Durand – organised a conference-debate at the Permanent Representation of the European Parliament in Paris, to look at how to accompany the transition to scientific research without the use of animals. MEP Younous Omarjee has committed to push for a “true review” of the EU Directive for the protection of laboratory animals in his next term.
The use of animals in research has been a controversial topic for decades. But, more than ever, the discourse is changing. Scientists, politicians, and policy makers are now looking at how the transition to non-animal science will look like.
During last week’s conference the superiority of state-of-the-art research – when compared to animal-based methods – was explored by a panel of expert scientists. Dr. Kevin Fournier, manager at a bio-printing company, questioned why we are still investing on animal-based research that is bound to disappear.
Lack of funding and the conservative views of the research community were frequently pointed out as obstacles for the advancement of innovation without the use of animals. Researchers, funders and policy makers continue to hesitate to change the current scientific practice and paradigm, even when faced with the failure, and therefore, the economic disadvantage of animal-based research and testing.
Bureaucracy and intellectual protection are other key factors addressed by panelists at the conference, which are slowing down the progress of non-animal methods of research.
Prof. Jean-Pierre Marguénaud showed his disappointment with the EU Directive that is supposed to protect the animals used for scientific purposes. He believes vague and conditional language as “where possible” undermines the protection of these animals. The author of “La conscience des animaux”, Raphäel Larrere, believes that our knowledge about the consciousness of animals urges us to address the impact of research on the wellbeing of these highly sensitive and complex beings.
The implementation of the EU legislation in France is also seen as inefficient when it comes to the evaluation and authorisation of research projects that will use animals. The evaluation committees are, as in most EU countries, biased by a majority or totality of members that are knowledgeable on animal-based research, but not on innovative animal-free approaches. In practice, the harm-benefit balance that these committees should assess ends up being close to irrelevant in a system that cares so little about non-human lives. Valentin Salamone, a former member of a project evaluation committee, addressed these biases and pointed out the need for a balanced representation of expertise and ethical views within these committees.
— Luísa Bastos (@luisaEG4A) October 18, 2018
In light of this debate, Younous Omarjee MEP pledged to call for a “true review” of the EU legislation to start taking seriously the final goal of this legislation – the full replacement of animals in science.
Even though Europe prides itself of being the world leader on animal welfare, Pascal Durand MEP shared his concern about the fact that the political debate doesn’t consider any issue related to the protection of animals as a priority, which is why he alerted to the need for major cultural change in politics. Durand highlighted the need to ensure that the major challenges of our time, such as climate change and terrorism, are seen also as an opportunity to strive for ethical progress at all levels and for everyone, including other species.
Luisa Bastos, Animals in Science Programme Leader