The “Stop vivisection” citizens’ initiative, which was launched by the Italian anti-vivisection movement in February, has not led to the total ban on animal procedures to which more than a million Europeans had lent their support. Does this mean that all their efforts have been in vain? Certainly not: it plainly shows that enormous numbers of EU citizens want to put a halt to animal procedures. My view is that, these days, nobody would opt for an animal procedure if there is a chance that they could find out what they want to know using an alternative, equally reliable, method.
But if it is true that no-one likes animal procedures, then why isn’t more being done to replace them with something else? At least two reasons spring to mind. The first is that current biomedical scientific insights and knowledge are inadequate to the task. The second is that gaining knowledge and insight costs a great deal of time and money. The importance of this citizens’ initiative (which was, incidentally, only the 3rd such initiative to exceed the one-million-signature threshold) is that it has demonstrated the level of concern about this issue among the EU’s collective society. Accordingly, it will certainly help to boost political interest in 3R alternatives for animal procedures. This, in turn, will generate greater commitment on the part of government bodies towards promoting, and investing in, approaches to scientific questions that involve the replacement, reduction, and refinement of laboratory animal use.
In the Netherlands, investment in such research is certainly not limited to the government alone. Animal welfare organizations, such as Proefdiervrij, are also providing substantial funding for partnerships with organizations such as the Dutch Heart Foundation and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development (ZonMw) in the context of a major programme entitled “Meer Kennis met Minder Dieren” (More Knowledge with Fewer Animals; MKMD). Step-by-step, we are making progress, sometimes through the use of zebra fish instead of mice, and sometimes via the systematic exchange of knowledge garnered from various parts of the world. This can render a new animal procedure unnecessary. Happily, genuinely alternative approaches are sometimes available, making it possible to reduce the number of laboratory animals used (this was cut by 50% in vaccine testing, for example). So our thanks to the initiators of the citizens’ initiative for this extra boost. Sometimes you have to be radical to get results!!
NCad held its first meeting with the technical experts representing community groups on 5 June. The goal was to obtain suggestions, ideas and other input for the draft advisory reports about: 1) central data management for animal procedures and 3Rs methods, and 2) reducing the numbers of stock animals sacrificed. Although the turnout was lower than had been hoped and expected, the meeting can nevertheless be considered a success, as several very useful suggestions were put forward. In addition, the atmosphere was relaxed and amicable.
But now, with summer vacations just around the corner, this is traditionally a period in which you want to tidy up all the loose ends before going off to lounge around in a sunny holiday destination. The same goes for NCad members. Before discarding our suits and ties, we want to get the two advisory reports in question in their baking tins and ready to go. After being allowed to rise in peace and quiet for a couple of weeks, they can then be placed into the baking oven at the end of August and presented to the State Secretary. The aroma is already delightful!
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