The European Commission today issued a Communication in response to the European Citizens’ Initiative Stop Vivisection. While sharing the conviction that animal testing should be phased out in Europe, the Commission considers it premature to repeal the current Directive on protecting animals used for scientific purposes, as the signatories of the initiative request. For the Commission, the Directive is needed to ensure a high level of protection of the animals used in research. The JRC actively supports the Directive, running the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM) which develops, validates and promotes alternative approaches to animal testing.
Over the last decade, technological advances have revolutionised biomedical research. Major breakthroughs include the development of alternative tests based on cell and tissue cultures, and computational methods that reduce the need for testing animals. But many complex physiological and toxicological processes and effects cannot yet be adequately modelled or assessed by alternatives, so some animal studies are still needed to advance research and to safeguard human, animal and environmental health.
The JRC-run European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing (EURL ECVAM) pursues the search for methods which replace, reduce or refine (the 'Three Rs') the use of laboratory animals. Methods developed by research laboratories are submitted to EURL ECVAM which assesses their reliability and relevance based on information gathered within a validation study. The outcome of the validation process undergoes independent peer review and forms the basis of a EURL ECVAM Recommendation on the validation status of the method and its utility regarding suitable applications.
Since its establishment more than twenty years ago (then as the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods), EURL ECVAM has validated around 50 test methods primarily for the toxicological testing of chemicals and the quality control of biologicals such as vaccines. Most of these methods or approaches have gone on to achieve international regulatory acceptance, for example as OECD test guidelines.
The new Communication indicates a need to accelerate progress in the area of replacing, reducing and refining the use of animals testing through knowledge sharing, and the Commission will continue to support the development and validation of alternative approaches. Dialogue with all stakeholders will continue, especially with the scientific community, to advance towards the goal of phasing out animal testing.