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Press release

Commission calls for co-ordination of research to reduce animal experimentation and testing


Brussels, 9 July 2002

Key words : alternative methods, animal rights, ethics, pharmaceutical, chemical, cosmetic


"Reduction, Replacement and Refinement" - the "Three Rs" - are the basic tenets of EU research and other policies concerning the use of animals in scientific testing and experimentation. To assess the latest scientific advances to reduce animal use, to discuss forthcoming research priorities and ways to better develop research at the EU level, the Commission has organised a conference in Brussels on 9-10 July. Over the last two decades, the Commission has supported research on, and validation of, alternative methods. Forthcoming changes in regulations on cosmetics and chemicals and growing needs in medical research are drastically increasing the expectations on science to develop alternatives to animal-based tests. "This is a challenge for the research community, but it also encompasses a major effort to better organise research and development investments at the EU level" said EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "The Commission is committed to fostering the Three Rs, including through its own research funding, but we can only get good results if there is a joint effort between scientists, national administrations, industry, NGOs and European policy-makers. With today's conference, I hope we can mobilise all stakeholders to work better together, in line with the objectives of the European Research Area."

Research into alternative methods to animal experimentation and testing is more than ever a necessity. The new EU system for registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemical substances foresees risk assessment for 30,000 chemical substances by 2012 at a cost of €2.1 billion ( white paper on future chemical substances policy ). According to independent estimates this would imply the use of several million animals.

To date, three alternative methods have been passed into European legislation. Another ten validated methods are in the pipeline. To take stock of progress and look at policy options for the future, the Commission (DG Research and DG Joint Research Centre) is bringing together a wide range of stakeholders, including researchers, industry, patients, animal rights NGOs, the media, policy makers and regulators. Participants will review the state-of-the-art of science including the possibilities offered by genomics and other recently developed scientific tools. They will also review current legislation with the participation of other DGs, and address the ethical considerations and growing public concern advocating limitations to animal experimentation and testing. More specifically, the conference will examine: 1) the latest scientific advances and their impact on animal experimentation; 2) the Three Rs in practice; and 3) the Three Rs in the current European and international regulatory context. For an explanation of the Three Rs see annex 1.
The conference is expected to help answer the following questions:

  • What are the areas where we can aim for or expect early validation of alternative methods?
  • Where does experimentation remains necessary?
  • How can we accelerate validation and international recognition of validated methods?

DG Research contribution through the framework programme

Through DG Research, the Commission contributes to the development of alternative methods by funding research bringing together expertise from all over Europe. In the current framework Programme, the "Quality of Life programme" funds the development of alternative methods of animal experimentation. To date, 35 research projects have received a total funding of €43 million and several more will be funded this year. These include the development of cell cultures, as well as in silico (computer-based) approaches. For neurological research, a field where demand for alternative methods is particularly high, one project is developing the use of yeast to imitate the reaction of mammalian cells to neurotoxic substances. The Sixth Framework programme will continue to support such research, and provide a means to realise the European Research Area by increasing collaboration between Member States on this critical issue.

DG JRC contribution through ECVAM

The primary role of ECVAM - the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods based in Ispra, Italy - is to validate alternative methods. ECVAM also has an active research programme, which is important for the purposes of training and mobility, as well as alternative test development. At present, ECVAM is co-ordinating validation studies or carrying out research in the several areas to validate better ways of testing or experimenting with chemicals (including cosmetics and pharmaceuticals) and biologicals (such as vaccines or pharmaceuticals). In line with the general duties of DG JRC, ECVAM also provides scientific advice to the services of the European Commission (i.e. DG ENV, DG ENTR, DG RTD, DG SANCO).

Links between DG Research funded projects and ECVAM activities

ECVAM systematically receives the results DG Research funded projects on the development of alternative methods. It then assesses the capacity of these new methods to enter into the validation process. A project on the detection of pyrogens (fever-inducing substances) funded by DG Research involves ECVAM as a partner and another on the development of an in vitro model of the human epiderm (skin) has been transferred to ECVAM. These links are witness to the continuity of action between DG Research and DG JRC (ECVAM).

Science and Society

The use of animals in research is also addressed in the Action Plan on Science and Society that the Commission presented in December 2002. In this context, the Commission is ready to support efforts that contribute to improving the awareness of researchers on the principles of the 3Rs, with a special emphasis on species that are closely related to human beings.

For further information:

Press contacts

  • Stéphane Hogan, Press officer, DG Research, European Commission
    Tel.: +, e-mail : Research Contact
  • Beatrice Lucaroni, Scientific Officer, DG Research, European Commission
    Tel.: +, e-mail:
  • Laurent Bontoux, Scientific Officer, DG JRC, European Commission
    Tel.: +, e-mail:




Reduction, Refinement and Replacement
Alternatives and Laboratory Animal Procedures

Adopted by the 3rd World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences, Bologna, Italy, on 31 August 1999

The "Three Rs" of Russell and Burch, reduction, refinement and replacement, had their origin in a project initiated in 1954 by the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW), which led to the publication in 1959 of The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, by W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch (1). In 1978, David Smyth used the word alternatives to define the Three Rs (2).

In their book, Russell and Burch stated that "The greatest scientific achievements have always been the most humane and the most aesthetically attractive, conveying that sense of beauty and elegance which is the essence of science at its most successful". They defined:

The Three Rs

Reduction alternatives as methods for obtaining comparable levels of information from the use of fewer animals in scientific procedures, or for obtaining more information from the same number of animals.

Refinement alternatives as methods which alleviate or minimise potential pain, suffering and distress, and which enhance animal well being.

Replacement alternatives as methods which permit a given purpose to be achieved without conducting experiments or other scientific procedures on animals.

  1. Russell, W.M.S. and Burch, R.L. (1959). The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. 239pp. London, UK: Methuen.
  2. Smyth, D. (1978). Alternatives to Animal Experiments. 218pp. London, UK: Scolar Press.

The participants in the 3rd World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences strongly endorse and reaffirm the principles put forward by Russell and Burch in 1959. Humane science is a prerequisite for good science, and is best achieved in relation to laboratory animal procedures by the vigorous promotion and application of the Three RS. The "Three Rs" should serve as a unifying concept, a challenge, and an opportunity for reaping benefits of every kind - scientific, economic and humanitarian.


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