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Animal Welfare
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The European approach

An EU research priority

The decision by EU leaders to include an animal welfare clause in the EC Treaty reflects the growing concern among Europeans about how animals are treated. This concern is mainly ethical, but it also stems from the notion that well-treated animals are healthier, safer for human consumption and produce better data when used in experiments.

To develop sound policies which take animal welfare into account, EU policy-makers need access to sound scientific advice. This is where EU-funded R&D comes in.

The EU has supported animal welfare projects under the current and previous Framework Programmes for R&D. During the 1990s, the Commission funded 11 projects with a strong emphasis on improving the welfare of farm animals, including those examining the transportation of cattle, animal welfare in organic farming, and feather pecking in poultry.

An independent scientific voice

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was set up in 2002 to provide independent scientific advice on all matters with a direct or indirect input on food safety, and to make sure risk assessment is separated from risk management – a key EU principle. The authority works on behalf of EU consumers to ensure that food safety decisions are based on the best scientific advice available. EFSA’s scientific panels are at the heart of its work. Eight panels have been set up in total, including one on animal health and welfare. The scientific experts on the panel will provide independent advice to the Commission on all aspects of animal health and welfare.

The European approach

The 'Three Rs', a concept introduced by Russell and Burch in 1959 in their book The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, is at the heart of EU research and policy on animal experimentation. This approach aims to minimise animal use and suffering without compromising the quality of the science. The ultimate goal is the complete replacement of animal experiments with alternative methods.

The EU’s ‘Quality of Life Programme’ provided support to 43 research projects aimed at finding alternative testing techniques. These include computer-modelling (in silico), research using human and animal cells in test tubes (in vitro), use of genomic data, and working with well-developed species such as micro-organisms and insects. One in vitro technique developed under this programme uses human blood cells to test new drugs for pyrogens (fever-causing agents). The new method, which is already in operation in about 200 labs worldwide, will replace the rabbit pyrogen test and is expected to save the lives of 200 000 rabbits in Europe each year. The development of new alternative techniques will continue under the Sixth Framework Programme (2002-2006).  

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Basic battery cages for laying hens will soon be a thing of the past in the EU. New welfare standards for laying hens mean that from 2012 onwards, cages allowing less than 750 cm2 per hen will be banned.
Basic battery cages for laying hens will soon be a thing of the past in the EU. New welfare standards for laying hens mean that from 2012 onwards, cages allowing less than 750 cm 2 per hen will be banned.