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The European Union should intensify efforts to phase out the use of animals in scientific research, lawmakers have said in a resolution.
An overwhelming majority of legislators approved the resolution in a move that was praised by animal rights groups.
"MEPs request an EU-wide action plan with ambitious and achievable objectives as well as timelines for phasing out the use of animals in research and testing," a statement released by the legislative body said.
According to figures released by the European Commission, the 27-member bloc collectively used over 8 million animals in scientific research in 2018. While the numbers are in yearly decline, MEPs are calling to speed up the phaseout process.
EU legislators said medium and long-term funds should be made available to support the transition to alternative methods of testing.
The parliament also said it recognizes the contribution of animal testing to medical advances, including COVID-19 vaccines.
"MEPs understand that there are cases where animal experiments are still needed to gain scientific insights for certain diseases due to the current unavailability of non-animal methods," the statement said, adding that in these exceptional cases, testing should only take place in conditions that "minimize pain, distress and suffering" inflicted on animals.
Current EU legislation strives to protect the welfare of animals still needed for research. However, animal rights activists say animals are still held in abhorrent conditions and subjected to suffering they claim is "unnecessary."
Animals used for research in the EU include monkeys, dogs, cats, rabbits, mice and rats.
Brussels-based animal rights NGO collective, Eurogroup For Animals, said it was a "historic moment for the animal protection movement" in a statement.
"Finally, the European citizens' demand to phase-out animal experiments and transition to human-relevant science has been heard. New advanced methods based on human biology are not only about protecting animals — they are also fundamental to achieving the union's goals of environmental protection and human health," the group said.
Another rights group, Humane Society International, echoed similar remarks, calling the resolution "a historic opportunity to take animal suffering out of the equation and shift the focus to modern, cutting-edge, human-relevant research".