Animal protection should be promoted but not at the expense of human life
Alternative methods to animal testing could include tests based on the use of human embryonic stems cells. Member States, according to a Draft EU Directive, may be obliged to apply such tests.
On 8th of September, the Plenary of the European Parliament will debate and vote, in Second Reading, a Draft Directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes (COD/2008/0211).
Animals are used in research for drug development, chemical toxicity and ecotoxicology, and product safety assessment (pesticides, food additives, cosmetics, or other substances with potential risks for human health).
One of the aims of the Directive is to replace animal testing by alternative methods.
Some of these could include tests based on the use of human embryonic stem cells (hESC), obtained by the destruction of human embryos.
COMECE is extremely concerned with one provision of the Draft Directive: Member States could be obliged to ensure that these alternative methods will be applied, no matter whether or not they are based on hESC (1).
The Alternative Testing Strategies - Progress Report 2009 of the European Commission gives examples of alternative testing strategies currently being developed. From a total of 21, the following 5 strategies make use of hESC:
• ReProtect: aims at developing reproductive toxicity testing using hESC treated with chemicals during their neuronal and cardiac differentiation.
• VITROCELLOMICS: aims at developing preclinical predictive drug testing by human hepatic in vitro models derived from hESC.
• INVITROHEART: aims at developing an in vitro model derived from hESC that reliably reflects human cardomyocytes for drug testing.
• ESNATS: aims at developing a new toxicity test platform, based particularly on hESC, to streamline the drug development process and evaluation of drug toxicity in clinical studies.
• carcinoGENOMICS: aims at developing a test for assessing genotoxic and carcinogenic properties of chemical compounds in vitro, using hepatocyte-like cells derived from hESC.
These technologies have been financially supported by the EU through the 6th and 7th Framework Research Programmes.
Although in agreement with the general aims of this Directive - namely, the protection of animals - COMECE draws attention to the fundamental difference in ‘dignity' between animals and human beings.
Fully in accord with its previous statements, COMECE therefore calls on Members of the European Parliament to explicitly exclude from the compulsory alternative testing methods, in the context of this Directive, those methods which involve the use of human embryonic stem cells. Moreover, this approach would serve to promote those numerous alternative strategies for which there is general consensus.
(1) Article 4, §1 'Principle of replacement, reduction and refinement'
"Member Sates shall ensure that, wherever possible, a scientifically satisfactory method or testing strategy, not entailing the use of live animals, shall be used instead of a procedure."
Link to the Draft Directive (see especially Articles 4(1) and 13(1))