By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
On Wednesday, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution that calls on the European Commission to draw-up an action plan to phase out animal experiments. This is a momentous political victory in a region where recent setbacks have occurred for animals in laboratories.
Top on the list of setbacks is the revelation that the European Chemical Agency has disregarded the longstanding ban on animal testing for cosmetics by demanding additional animal data for dozens of cosmetic ingredients, which has already killed an estimated 25,000 animals. Humane Society International’s stop-motion short film “Save Ralph” has helped raise awareness on the fact that the public has been misled about the EU’s cosmetics ban.
Many more animals may die in painful toxicity tests if the European Commission implements its Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability Towards a Toxic-Free Environment, which as proposed would further cement the EU’s “tick-box” approach to chemical hazard assessment based predominantly on animal testing. The Parliament’s resolution correctly points out that non-animal approaches based on human biology are the key to better assess chemical safety. That is one of the reasons why, in the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency has committed to phase-out its animal tests requirements by 2035, and the Humane Cosmetics Act is gathering steam in Congress.
The resolution in favor of an action plan to phase out animal testing was championed by HSI/Europe and other animal protection groups, leading European scientists and companies. The overwhelming cross-party support shown by Members of the European Parliament reflects the growing dismay felt toward recent actions and proposals by European Chemical Agency and the European Commission.
The resolution is a strong statement that covers all animal use for research, testing and education, a sobering reminder of the nearly 10 million animals used annually in European laboratories. Nearly 70% of these animals are used in biomedical research, an area where, according to statistics, little to no reduction has been achieved despite a 35-year-old legal requirement that animals must not be used where alternatives are available. Continued reliance on animals as a first resort cannot be justified or allowed to persist in light of the modern non-animal technologies like human organ-chips and next-generation computer models now available.
Recognizing that science has evolved, the Parliament is calling for deep, systemic changes, noting that phasing out animal experiments will require “preferential funding of non-animal methods across all EU research and innovation initiatives,” training scientists in novel approaches and supporting start-up companies offering and perfecting these methods.
Hastening the transition to human-focused approaches to testing and health research is in all our interests. EU parliamentarians should be applauded for their vision and leadership, and other nations are encouraged to follow suit.
Now, we need public voices to join our call to make sure the European Commission listens and delivers an ambitious and life-saving action plan.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.