National Anti-vivisection Society


National Antivisection Society

Political Animals 2015: Thematic Review - A targeted approach to replacing animals in experiments

Posted: 24 September 2015. Updated: 29 September 2015

During the revision of the old European Directive on animal experiments (which became EU Directive 2010/63/EU), the NAVS presented a series of proposals to find a way of identifying, examining and replacing specific uses of animals in research with agreed solutions. We highlighted specific types of research, what advanced non-animal replacements might be available, the obstacles to replacement, and the potential solutions. The suggested system became known as ‘Thematic Review’ (a themed analysis and discussion of specific areas of animal use or types of experiment, with a view to abandonment or replacement of animal use), and the idea gained ground with the Commission, MEPs, MPs, The Council of Ministers, government officials and others as a practical approach to eliminating experiments which were known to be of poor design and/or for which there is a non-animal replacement method or another way of obtaining the information required. This was adopted in the Directive under Article 58:

“The Commission shall, where appropriate, and in consultation with the Member States and stakeholders, conduct periodic thematic reviews of the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in procedures, paying specific attention to non-human primates, technological developments, and new scientific and animal-welfare knowledge.”

The UK has an opportunity to take a lead on targeting areas of animal experimentation for elimination and a mechanism under the Directive to present this to the Commission for Europe-wide implementation.

In the 1980s, through our Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research, the NAVS began developing a series of computer programmes to replace the use of animals in university teaching, for example pharmacology. We soon discovered – as quaint as it may seem today – the lack of computers in universities was a major obstacle for moving to the simulations. We supplied computer suites to various university departments and the use of computer simulations took off; soon hundreds of thousands of animals were being saved from unnecessary teaching practicals every year.

Put simply, the obstacles to the robust evaluation of animal procedures and the introduction of advanced scientific methods need to be removed – this both helps researchers to use more sophisticated technology, and saves animals from unnecessary suffering.

The blanket of secrecy that shrouds animal experimentation is a huge obstacle to such a practical approach. Through the licensing process, the Home Office holds some of the information needed for such an examination of animal use and suggestions for replacement. The UK can take the lead in the use of advanced technology and scientific method, and lead Europe and other countries on animal replacement.

The NAVS is urging the UK Government to incorporate article 58 of EU Directive 2010/63/EU with bi-annual reviews of targeted areas of animal experimentation with a view to determining timetables and strategies for replacement. Areas to target would be identified through consultations with stakeholders, with priority given to those areas of research with either established or emerging alternatives.

Read other articles from Political Animals 2015

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