Animal experiments will be reduced in number and subject to stricter regulations across Europe. The European Parliament has agreed on rules to closely monitor procedures, with a complete ban on using some species.
Some 12 million animals are used in EU-wide tests per year
Animal experiments in the EU are set to become fewer in number and subject to stricter rules under a new directive backed by the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The European Commission rules were described as a "quantum leap for animal protection" by European parliamentarian Elisabeth Jeggle, a German Christian Democrat who steered the directive through parliament.
Potocnik said the EU was setting new standards
The measures, which would still allow the testing of animals for medical research, were described as setting the highest animal welfare standards in the world by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.
Under the legislation, national authorities will have to assess the animal welfare implications of every experiment carried out.
Each country will be given two years to comply with the rules, and authorities must "ensure that whenever an alternative method is available, this is used instead of animal testing."
In addition, animal welfare officials must also work at ensuring that pain experienced in experiments that actually go ahead is reduced.
Ban on use of certain primates
The rules also place greater restrictions on the use of primates in testing. Experiments on great apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are to be banned, while "strict" restrictions are to be introduced on the use of primates more generally.
The directive includes a ban on tests on great apes
The legislation allows researchers to use primates in testing illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, cancer or Parkinson's disease only where there is scientific evidence that no alternative is available.
EU Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli called the directive - which updates rules last agreed in 1986 - "a good compromise on a difficult topic."
However, not every member of parliament was satisfied. "I would have liked even stricter restrictions," said Ulrike Rodust, a Germany Social Democrat.
Some 12 million animals are experimented upon each year in the EU. Last year the EU banned animal testing for developing cosmetics, apart from long-running toxicology tests, which will be banned in 2013.
Author: Richard Connor (AP/AFP/epd/KNA)
Editor: Nancy Isenson