MEPs visit EU reference laboratory of alternatives to animal testing
The purpose of the visit was to inform MEPs of the activities of EURL ECVAM and the progress being made both in Europe and internationally on the Reduction, Refinement and Replacement of animal testing methods. This visit provided the opportunity for the MEPs to meet and discuss with experts in the field and to better understand how further progress can be made.
ECVAM (The European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods) was created in 1991 by the Commission following Directive 86/609/EEC which required that the Commission and the Member States should actively support the development, validation and acceptance of methods which could reduce, refine or replace the use of laboratory animals. Through the new directive on protection of animals used for scientific purposes, 2010/63/EU, the remit of EURL ECVAM has been extended much further than there role in the validation process of alternative methods. They however decided to keep the acronym ECVAM as it was internationally recognised but this has caused some confusion. They now have a more diverse focus, with validation only forming a part of the activities.
Participants were MEPs Stefan Eck (GUE/NGL, DE), Anja Hazekamp (GUE/NGL, NL), Emil Radev (EFDD, IT), Marco Zullo (EFDD, IT) as well as Andrea Busetto (Assistant of Mr Zullo), Sandra Gabriel (Assistant of Mr Eck) and Karolina Tomaczewska (Political Adviser for animal welfare policy of Mr Wojciechowski). They were accompanied by Andreas Erler and Kirsty Reid of Eurogroup for Animals and Michela Kuan, LAV, Italy.
The day visit included a tour of the new visitor centre, presentations and discussions with K. Maruszewski (Director of the Institute for Health and Consumer Protection (IHCP)), V. Šucha, (Director General JRC – who participated via video link) and Maurice Whelan (head of EURL ECVAM). There were numerous presentations given by the staff on their various activities. At the end (and the highlight of the meeting) was a tour of the laboratories.
ECVAM employs nearly 70 people, representing over 20 of the EU Member States, with relevant scientific expertise. From the informative presentations and interactive discussions it was clear that EURL ECVAM is committed to the 3Rs.
They have state-of-the-art laboratories with highly precise equipment carrying out a vast array of experiments, including high throughput screening which is rapid and accurate. As mentioned previously, they are not involved in validation alone. They are involved in a number of initiatives, webinar trainings, reports, developing and carrying out strategies all to further develop and disseminate work on alternative methods. In addition they have produced a search guide on how to use databases, which is one of the most downloaded and used of the EU documents and has even been translated by external people into other non EU languages due to its success. The work of ECVAM goes beyond the EU to the international level and they have active participation, chairing numerous activities at the level of the OECD and involvement in the ICATM (International Cooperation on Alternative Test Methods)
The MEPs voiced their appreciation of the visit and were impressed with the work being undertaken. Maurice Whelan, Head of EURL ECVAM expressed his own views of the success of the visit stating ’they (EURL ECVAM) got a lot out of the visit ourselves and found the exchanges very informative indeed. We appreciated too the open and engaging nature of all the MEPs and the interest they showed in our activities.’
There is however always room for improvement. Eurogroup voiced concerns of the need for more involvement, interaction and exchange of views at the level of ESTAF, the EURL ECVAM stakeholder forum, where Eurogroup holds a seat amongst other active stakeholders from civil society, research and industry sectors. The views and actions proposed by this group need to be improved.
In addition, it was agreed that the changing structure and functioning of EURL ECVAM, is not always obvious or clear to an outsider who takes an interest in the topic and work. It was therefore agreed that to better inform people, there is a need to produce some information material specifically tailored for an audience including Parliamentarians, citizens and other interested parties that describes aspects of the work and specific issues surrounding alternatives methods to animal testing. Eurogroup is happy to commit to be involved in this initiative.