More research for more animal protection

The EU directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes granted the member states a margin of appreciation when transforming its goals into national law. In 2013, the amended Animal Welfare Act and the new Regulation on the Protection of Laboratory Animals came into force in Germany. The regulations do not lay down all details concerning their practical implementation. These undefinite legal terms are necessary to accommodate integration of new scientific insights at any time. "It is not clear from a scientific viewpoint how changes in the physiological condition of animals can be objectively measured nor how these changes can be related to the resulting degree of pain, suffering or harm", says Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. Receiving support from the competent authorities, experts in the fields of the natural sciences, veterinary medicine and jurisprudence should cooperate more closely in order to define standards for the practical implementation of the new legislation. In addition, research efforts to promote alternatives to animal experiments and research on laboratory animal science are necessary. The suggestions of the BfR were published in the scientific publications EMBO Journal (DOI 10.15252/embj.201694448) and EMBO Reports (DOI 10.15252/embr.201642354).

The aim of the EU directive on the protection of  animals used for scientific purposes is to phase out all procedures on live animals for scientific purposes t, accepting at the same time that animal experiments are still necessary in basic research and also to protect the environment and health of humans and animals. Yet, another key element of the directive is the 3R principle - replace, reduce, refine. This principle aims at replacing animal experiments with other methods, to reduce the number of experimental animals where it is possible and to minimise animal suffering.

The European Union has passed a directive rather than a regulation since the former gives the member states enough flexibility when transposing the goals of the directive into national law. The particular characteristics of a given country can thereby be taken into account. The new regulations enacted by the German legislature as part of its implementation must now be put into practice and interpreted jurisprudentially.

A close cooperation between experts from the fields of science, veterinary medicine and law with the competent authorities is becoming increasingly important in implementing the new legislation, thereby creating a joint culture of care in dealing with animal experiments. Jurisprudence can suggest definitions of the relevant terms for those who apply the legal requirements. Through their specialist knowledge, scientists can make a contribution to the objective measurement of the welfare of animals. In contrast, it is incumbent upon the licensing and regulatory authorities to ensure that the recommendations of scientists are incorporated in their implementation tasks.

In order to strengthen animal protection, all involved disciplines should cooperate to find a common solution.

In this context, the BfR has, based on close scientific cooperation with other experts, developed and published its first international recommendation for the assessment of the stress levels in genetically modified fish (bony fish, Teleostei) (DOI 10.15252/embj.201694448).

Links to the publications:

About the Bf3R

The BfR acts as the “German Centre for the Protection of Experimental Animals (Bf3R)”. Throughout Germany, it coordinates all activities with the objectives of reducing animal experiments to an absolute minimum and offering the best possible protection to experimental animals. In addition, the Centre strives to inspire research activities all over the world and to facilitate scientific dialogue.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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