It’s a monumental time for animals in laboratories, with the European Parliament’s recent resolution calling for an action plan to end the use of animal experimentation. Passed with a resounding vote of 667 to 4, the resolution calls for the European Commission to establish an EU-wide action-plan with ambitious yet achievable targets and milestones to accelerate progress in phasing out the use of animal methods in scientific research and education. The plan should prioritise funding towards the development of non-animal science and technologies. Developed over a year, with collective support from the scientific community and campaigning by animal protection organisations within the EU, this historical resolution is a welcome indication of changing times.
Human Research Australia (HRA), a leading organisation advocating for scientifically valid and humane non-animal methods of research in Australia, sees this news as a prompt for Australia to review its own use of animals in scientific research and education. HRA’s CEO, Rachel Smith says, “Australia makes minimal effort to monitor and report on the use of animals in experimentation, and unlike other countries, does not have a centre dedicated to developing and validating non-animal methods . If no funding is committed to develop, refine and validate alternatives, progress will remain stalled and Australia will be left behind, leaving a devasting trail of animals who will continue to suffer unjustifiably.”
In Australia, very little progress has been made in regard to transitioning towards non-animal methods in scientific research. In 1989, the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare, in its report to the Australian Government, recommended ‘that the Commonwealth Government establish a separate fund for research into the use of alternatives to animal experimentation and that grants be disbursed from this fund by a board composed of representatives from the scientific community, animal welfare organisations, ACCART [now ANZCCART] and government authorities’. This recommendation was made over 30 years ago, and it has still has not happened.
The consequences of our government’s inaction is evident in our lack of progress in the scientific development of non-animal alternatives and our capacity to implement the 3Rs framework (‘replacement, ‘reduction, ‘refinement’), which is a requirement of ‘The Australian code for the care and use of animals for scientific purposes’ (the Code). The 2019, the ‘NHMRC Information Paper on the Implementation of the 3Rs in Australia’ identified that a primary barrier was a lack of appropriate scientific or technological innovation.
In Australia, there is currently as no institution taking responsibility for funding alternatives, despite a legislative obligation to only conduct research for which there is no alternative. A cultural change is needed to encourage adoption of alternatives and that can only be achieved through leadership, commitment and mentorship of Australian researchers, leading to generational change in research practices. Funding is a crucial first step.
In early 2020, prompted by the infamous Sydney baboon escape that raised public concern about the welfare of animals used in experimentation, a motion was brought to the Senate calling upon the Federal Government to ensure national transparency and accountability in the use of animals in research and invest in the methods and technology needed to end the use of animals for research purposes. There has still been no meaningful action in response to this motion.
HRA is calling for the following:
- An ongoing federally funded research funding stream for the development of non-animal based scientific testing
- More transparent reporting on the use of animals in in science and education
- A commitment to developing an Australian Centre for the Development and Validation of Alternatives.
- State and territory funding for the development of non-animal based scientific testing via incentives such as awards, scholarships or research grants.
“Without a strategic plan to facilitate greater accountability and allocate funding towards the innovation of non-animal alternative methods, there’s very little incentive for Australian researchers and institutions to stop using animal methods.”, HRA’s CEO, Rachel Smith explains. “This make it very difficult, if not impossible for any meaningful change to occur within our systems, which means each year hundreds of thousands of animals will continue to suffer and be killed in laboratories around Australia.”