The European Commission has rejected a European Citizens' Initiative (ECI) to phase out animal testing in Europe by 2020. The Stop Vivisection petition was signed by 1.2 million European signatories and presented to EU officials in May.
In a statement released Wednesday, the EU said that, while it shared campaigners' conviction that animal testing should be phased out, it believed that, "for the time being, animal experimentation remains important for protecting human and animal health, and for maintaining an intact environment."
In its petition, the ECI called for the abrogation of Directive 2010/63/EU, which is an EU ruling that states Europe's final goal as "a full phasing out of animal testing," all the while acknowledging that, "animal use is still necessary on the way to reaching this goal." Signatories of the petition had asked the EU to consider adopting new legislation to ban all animal experiments by 2020.
The ECI, which was launched in 2012, is a direct-democracy EU initiative, which enables EU nationals to propose new rulings for consideration by the European Commission. For an ECI to be studied by the commission, it must first collect one million signatures, belonging to citizens from at least seven member states.
The Stop Vivisection ECI was filed in March 2015 with 1,173,130 signatures from EU nationals in nine states.
Claude Reiss, a former research director at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS), and one of the people behind the Stop Vivisection campaign, told VICE News he was disappointed with the European Commission's response.
"We have used pointless methods for 50 years, even though alternatives do exist, such as testing on human cells, removed during surgery, or on mini-organs created from stem cells," said Reiss.
Reiss currently works for Antidote Europe — an NGO that promotes "sound scientific methods" instead of animal research — and for him, the inefficiency of animal testing is a key argument of the campaign.
"No species can be used as a model for another species," he explained, "and tests carried out on animals such as mice or primates cannot be transposed to humans."
While Reiss agreed that animal testing couldn't be banned overnight, he voiced his concern over the continuation of a practice he deems "dangerous for mankind." Animal testing, he said, has not led to medical breakthroughs "for diseases like AIDS, or other illnesses that are increasingly affecting humans: cancer, autism, Alzheimer's, and diabetes."
Beyond the scientific argument, one of the cornerstones of the Stop Vivisection campaign is animal protection, and campaigners have released explicit footage of experiments on animals that had allegedly been carried out in European laboratories.
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Many of these images, argued French neurobiologist Luc Buée, were taken "out of context," and are symptomatic of the "lack of information" on the subject. Speaking to VICE News Thursday, Buée pointed out that, "Any video of surgery being performed on humans would probably be just as shocking."
Buée, who is also a research director at the CNRS, has responded to the ECI's campaigners with an article on the necessity of animal testing.
"The images and the scientific case-studies chosen by the critics of animal testing do not paint a realistic picture of the practice," he said. "The current legal framework is a good one, and in France, where I work, it is successful."
Buée disagrees with researchers like Reiss, and believes that animal testing is a vital component of medical progress.
"Experiments on animals are justified by science, and are only carried out when the alternative methods don't work." Some animal species, he argued, "react like humans" to testing.
Like Buée, the EU agrees that the ultimate goal should be the phasing out of animal testing, pending the discovery of working alternatives. Europe has articulated its commitment to the future ban through its "Three R" approach — a program to Replace, Reduce and Refine the use of animals wherever possible.
According to a 2013 EU report on animal testing, 11.5 million animals died in European laboratories in 2011. More than two million animals died in French labs, making the country Europe's biggest killer of research animals. According to the report, 80 percent of animals killed in all EU labs are rabbits or rodents.
Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter : @MatthieuJublin
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