Extensive resources have been invested in the development and validation of alternatives to replace animal tests in many areas of study.
So why aren’t alternatives being used to replace animal tests? A series of articles published in the most recent edition of the journal Alternatives to Laboratory Animals (ATLA) addressed this question, focusing on the issue in the European Union.
With respect to animal research, the EU has a Directive which states:
“Member States 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.”
“Member States shall ensure that a procedure is not carried out if another method or testing strategy for obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of a live animal, is recognised under the legislation of the Union.”
While this position on animal use seems very clear, animals continue to be used when alternative methods already exist. So again, the question remains: Why?
One factor is that it takes time for validated alternatives to be recognized under EU legislation. This is due, in part, to the fact that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development can take three years or more to accept the alternative method.
Another issue has to do with the way the Directive is worded. The phrase “the result sought” is problematic, as different countries may have different opinions on what kind of information is needed from tests. There are instances where the EU does not require animal testing, but some non-EU countries do. This results in thousands of animal tests being conducted in the EU for non-EU purposes.
Enforcement can also be a concern. Many question how strictly these policies are enforced and whether appropriate penalties are applied for not abiding by them.
And of course, some in the scientific community still fail to acknowledge the known limitations of animal models to predict what happens in people; hence, they are reluctant to trust the alternative methods.
While there has been a tremendous effort to develop and validate animal-free alternatives, as Professor Michael Balls points out, “This effort will be wasted, unless scientists, politicians and industries recognise the limited value of laboratory animals as models of human beings, and welcome and accept the directly human-relevant alternative procedures which can replace them—and insist on their application, in line with the laws and regulations that are already in place.”
Clearly, many hurdles need to be overcome in order for alternative methods to be used in place of animal tests when such alternatives exist. Acknowledging these issues is the first step; now, more solutions need to be developed. We will continue to update you on the progress that is being made to overcome these obstacles.
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