A question of ethics
Few issues provoke such emotive debate or give rise to so many public concerns as animal welfare. From the use of animals in laboratory experiments to their treatment on farms, animal welfare is among the most sensitive and controversial issues facing society. You could say it is a life or death issue, not only for the animals, but also for humans. Animal welfare is linked to food safety and the development of new treatments for life-threatening diseases such as cancer and AIDS.
Animal welfare has long been a European Union (EU) priority, but the issue was put firmly on the political agenda in the aftermath of various food crises. Mad cow disease, salmonella poisoning and the outbreak of foot and mouth disease shattered public confidence in our food chain. Consumers looked to scientists for assurances that animal products were safe to eat and had been produced in a humane way.
Meanwhile, the use of animals in laboratories continues to cause controversy. The issue regularly hits the headlines, with news of militant activists breaking into labs to free animals or going on hunger strike for their cause. In the minds of hard-core campaigners, tests on animals are never justified, while scientists defend the practice saying that it is still the only way to test the safety of some new drugs fully. Most Europeans favour alternative methods, but understand that experiments on animals are sometimes necessary to bring safe medicines to the market.
Reducing the use of animal testing has been an EU objective for the last two decades. The Union has introduced strict rules on the use of animals in R&D, and funds research to develop and validate alternative methods.
Important advances have been made, not least the recognition in the Treaty establishing the European Community that animals are ‘sentient beings’. The animal welfare protocol, which was added by the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, is a great contribution to the protection of animals as it obliges the EU institutions and Member States to take full account of animal welfare when drawing up new agriculture, transport, research and single market policies.
|“In formulating and implementing the Community’s agriculture, transport, internal market and research policies, the Community and the Member States shall pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.” |
Protocol annexed to the EC Treaty, in force since 1999