In December 2016, the Netherlands National Committee for the Protection of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes (NCad) provided an advisory report to the Dutch Minister of Agriculture Martijn van Dam after the Minister had requested a schedule for phasing out animal procedures. The report is titled “Transition to non-animal research – About the possibilities for phasing out animal procedures and stimulating innovation without laboratory animals”.
Earlier in 2016, the Dutch Parliament had already passed a motion to phase out all research on non-human primates. The Government aims now at phasing out animal research methods by 2025 and becoming a world leader in animal-free science.
So what is the NCad’s advice?
Overall, the NCad observes that it is time for a paradigm shift. While the animal model has become the “golden standard” in a number of research areas, it inflicts pain and suffering on animals and is perpetuated, for example, “because the current scientific quality assessment system is generally based on bibliometric criteria”, because journals impose animal data requirements on authors, and because the use of animal procedures is stipulated in many guidelines and laws.
Conversely, alternative approaches are becoming more common and “will increase in number and importance”. But the provision of funding for alternatives and innovation is not enough for a paradigm shift to occur. The parties involved in the field will also need to no longer regard animal research as the golden standard, or animal research is “no longer delivering the necessary results”.
In regard to the latter, I would argue that for some decades animal research has not delivered the necessary results for governments and citizens, although it has delivered profits and careers for the industry.
The report argues for strong government leadership to enable a paradigm shift to animal-free science.
The NCad believes that it is only with a broad-ranging and coordinated effort by the ministries involved and other stakeholders that significant progress can be made in reducing the use of animals in research. The choice of a clear direction, clear objectives and concrete steps is essential in this context, but emotions, social structures and other factors over which less influence can be wielded inevitably play a role, given the nature of transitions.
According to the report, regulatory research and testing can and should be phased out by 2025:
The use of laboratory animals in regulatory safety testing of chemicals, food ingredients, pesticides and (veterinary) medicines can be phased out by 2025, whilst maintaining the existing safety level. The same applies to the use of laboratory animals for the release of biological products, such as vaccines.
This should occur together with an international review of the regulatory risk assessment process.
However, the NCad suggests that regulatory pre-clinical research “cannot be phased out at the same pace”.
In regulatory clinical research, medicines that were successful in animal procedures often fail in clinical trials. For these instances, so-called backward validation studies can be used to investigate or determine the predictive value of pre-clinical animal tests and innovative methods for clinical research on human subjects. On the basis of the insights obtained, pre-clinical research models can be improved. The NCad recommends for the Minister for Agriculture to make funds available for this.
For fundamental scientific research, the NCad recommends the development of a 10-year plan for the different areas of basic research in consultation with the public and the scientific community.
In regard to applied and translational research, the NCad observes that “more rapid progress can be made than is being made at the present time. There is a great deal of innovative potential that could be better exploited.”
For education and training,
NCad recognises that the use of laboratory animals in training professionals involved in the field will continue to be necessary to a certain extent, but believes that, here too, cultivating a mindset that does not rely on laboratory animals will help keep the number of animal procedures to a minimum.
The NCad encourages the Netherlands Government to take leadership at the international level. For example:
Urge the European Commission to define a European strategy that takes an ambitious and integrated approach to non-animal research, one that includes animal welfare and the 3Rs in impact assessments and the development of new legislation and regulations. Also, call for existing legislation and regulations to be critically reviewed in this respect, and for it to be mandatory for accepted alternatives to be included, for funds to be made available for the further development of innovations without laboratory animals and for EU standards to be observed in commercial treaties.
…consider collaborating with the US organisations EPA (for the risk assessment of substances and pesticides) and FDA (for the risk assessment of medicines and food additives), as part of a European alliance or otherwise, on the theme of New Risk Management in approval of substances.
… In collaboration with the ministries of Health, Welfare and Sport and Infrastructure and the Environment, the RIVM and relevant international organisations, endeavour to obtain European agreements that make it easier to depart from regulatory animal procedures where possible through the use of validated alternative methods. Also, aim for transparent communication regarding situations where alternatives to the regulatory animal procedures have been used.
Overall, this is a great initiative towards phasing out animal experiments. It shows that it can be done given the political will. Congratulations to Minister van Dam and his government. Congratulations also to the citizens of the Netherlands who have advocated for this change. I hope that other countries will follow your example.