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UK Research Councils recommend changes to the European Commission's draft revised animals Directive

Issued by MRC on behalf of BBSRC, MRC and NERC

Medical Research Council website Visit  Natural Environment Research Council website

5 November 2008

The Medical Research Council (MRC), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have expressed concern over proposed changes to the EU’s animals Directive.  The organisations consider the current proposals would lead to increased bureaucracy and hamper essential research, with few additional animal welfare benefits.

The European Commission published a draft revision of the EU Animals Directive to update the original 1986 Directive (86/609), with a particular emphasis on improving animal welfare and increasing harmonisation across Europe.

Research for the acquisition of knowledge, for the development of new human and animal treatments and for protection of the environment is essential. Under current legislation, animals are used only when necessary and unavoidable, and where appropriate non-animal methods are not available. The Research Councils have active programmes focused on the replacement, refinement and reduction of the use of animals (known as the 3Rs). BBSRC and MRC provide financial support for, and actively collaborate with, the UK National Centre for the 3Rs. However, current evidence suggests animal research remains necessary.

Speaking on behalf of the research councils (NERC, MRC and BBSRC), Dr Tony Peatfield, Acting Director of Corporate Affairs at the MRC, said: "Europe-wide laws regulating the use of animals in research are important. It is time to update the 1986 Directive but we must make sure that any changes promote animal welfare, help to benefit patients, strengthen public confidence, maintain the UK’s economic competitiveness, and keep us at the forefront of global scientific research.  We want to see appropriate regulations which are founded on good evidence and keep levels of red tape in proportion.  The Directive should deliver a consistent approach across EU member states in the use of animals in research but it should allow for flexibility in the way the Directive is implemented."

In particular the Research Councils take the view that:

  • The proposed requirement to restrict research on non-human primates to that 'undertaken with a view to the avoidance, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of life-threatening or debilitating clinical conditions' could exclude valuable basic research (which provides the basis for advances in future treatments) and would exclude research on other serious conditions that severely affect quality of life (e.g. fertility, obesity)
  • The Directive should avoid measures that add to bureaucracy - for example, multiple levels of authorisation and review prior to initiation, and during the conduct of research - but which do not lead to positive animal welfare outcomes
  • Specific invertebrate species should not be included in the regulation without better evidence that they may suffer
  • Some of the restrictions on the size of cages and of environmental conditions are over prescriptive. They may be costly without significantly benefiting animal welfare for instance
  • The existing restrictions on use of wild-caught animals should not be extended further during debates on this draft as this could restrict research (including veterinary and behavioural research) on the health effects of environmental change and pollution

The Research Councils are involved also in discussions with Government which will be preparing the UK response to the draft Directive in due course.


Notes to editors

The use of animals in research in the UK is tightly regulated by the Home Office under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and stringent safeguards are in place to ensure that animal experimentation is only carried out when there is no other way of achieving the desired results and that the highest standards of animal welfare are maintained.

About MRC

The Medical Research Council is dedicated to improving human health through excellent science. It invests on behalf of the UK taxpayer. Its work ranges from molecular level science to public health research, carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of its own units and institutes. The MRC liaises with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public’s needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited the health and wealth of millions of people in the UK and around the world.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

About NERC

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) funds world-class science, in universities and its own research centres, that increases knowledge and understanding of the natural world. It is tackling major environmental issues such as climate change, biodiversity and natural hazards. NERC receives around £400m a year from the government's science budget, which is used to provide independent research and training in the environmental sciences.

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