Many Member States are still struggling to achieve appropriate transposition of the EU Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes.
A key intention of the Directive (2010/63/EU) was to harmonise the way animals are used in science within the EU. Some flexibility does exist in the way Member States may implement the Directive, but, for example, it does not allow them to implement higher standards unilaterally. This means that if a Member State wants in the future to improve housing and care standards, or prohibit the use of animals for certain purposes, it cannot do this without the agreement of all other Member States.
The first review of the Directive in 2017 concluded that it provided a solid basis for the regulation of the use of animals in research, but found, amongst other things, that the implementation of non-animal methods is slow. The reasons identified for such delays include:
Cost: implementing non-animal methods implies additional investment, especially when the costs associated with the use of animals are not dropped
Lack of knowledge: researchers do not tend to receive continuous training throughout their careers, which in turn means that curricula in life sciences are often out-of-date too
Insufficient communication: dissemination actions and sources on non-animal methods and on the limitations of the animal-based methods are not enough, and they don’t reach students, educators, and researchers
In addition, the quality, transparency and impact of oversight bodies and project evaluation mechanisms vary significantly throughout the EU. Different structures for project evaluation in MS raise many challenges on the impartiality, proportionality and consistency of evaluations. The fact that almost all project applications are authorised in every country, linked with significant concerns around the standards to which much scientific research is carried out, and the poor translatability of many animal studies, also indicates a general lack of critical challenge regarding the ‘need’ to use animals.
Under the Directive, the Commission is responsible for conducting periodic Thematic Reviews on the principles and practices of the “3Rs”: the replacement, reduction and refinement of the use of animals in research, education and testing.
However, ten years after the adoption of the Directive, no such reviews have yet been conducted, despite a number of proposals from animal protection organisations. Thematic Reviews can be an opportunity to investigate the reasons, contexts, situations and purpose of the use of animals in research, and potential ways to decrease our reliance on animals in research by learning from best practices and addressing the poor ones.