Will the European Commission Take Effective Action to End Experiments on Primates?

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Around 10,000 non-human primates are used in experiments in the European Union every year. These tests are terrifying and often painful for the animals involved – but are they about to be phased out?

Mother and baby monkeys held by NIH for experimentation.

The European Commission has requested an update to the scientific opinion on whether it’s really “necessary” to use primates in biomedical research as well as the production and testing of products and devices.

The last opinion on this subject from the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks, delivered in 2009, placed restrictions on the types of procedures that can be performed on primates. Now, as part of the legal requirement to review the use of animals in experiments, the European Commission is revisiting these recommendations. This time around, we’re urging it to go further and commit to ending cruel experiments on monkeys altogether.

Earlier this year, the Netherlands passed a motion in Parliament to phase out testing on primates and instead focus on developing humane, non-animal testing methods. There’s no reason why the rest of the EU shouldn’t do the same.

Experiments on sensitive, intelligent animals such as non-human primates are indefensible, both morally and scientifically. These animals may be born in laboratories or bred in squalid breeding centres in countries such as Cambodia, China, and Indonesia, where animals captured from the wild are used as breeding stock. They can spend years of their lives locked up inside sterile laboratory cages, far away from their native habitat and everything that’s natural and important to them. They’re often separated from their families or other members of their species and may be used in frightening and distressing procedures, in which they’re force-fed drugs, they’re infected with deadly diseases, or holes are drilled into their skulls.

In spite of this, research has shown that animals rarely serve as good models for the human body. One recent study noted that “monkey data do not translate well to progress in clinical practice for humans.”

There’s no scientific justification for current regulations that stipulate, for example, that new pharmaceuticals must be tested on large mammals. In one sobering illustration, TGN1412 – a new drug that was found to be safe in macaques, who were given a dose 500 times higher than the human dose – led to multiple organ failure and disfiguring injuries to six human clinical trial participants. This is just one of many instances in which experiments on monkeys have yielded unreliable or misleading results.

There are other better ways to develop new medicines and treatments, such as epidemiological studies, human tissue– and cell-based research methods, cadavers, sophisticated high-fidelity human-patient simulators, and computational models. These are often more efficient and precise than testing on animals as well as ethical, and European scientists should be focusing their efforts on them – not on archaic and cruel experiments on primates.

You Can Help

This review is an opportunity for us to show the European Commission that compassionate Europeans want cruel tests on primates to end. Join the campaign!


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