RPT-EU Great Apes Debate leads to testing ban proposal
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BRUSSELS Nov 5 (Reuters) - Europe's environment chief plans to ban laboratory tests on mankind's closest relatives -- chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans -- in a clampdown on animal testing by the drugs industry and other researchers.
But other monkeys were not spared after other European Commission departments intervened in the EU's "Great Ape Debate", animal welfare campaigners said.
"It is absolutely important to steer away from testing on animals," said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.
"Scientific research must focus on finding alternative methods to animal testing, but where alternatives are not available the situation of animals still used in experiments must be improved."
Some 12 million vertebrate animals are used each year in experiments throughout the 27-nation bloc -- half for drug development and testing, a third for biology studies and the rest for cosmetics tests, toxicology and disease diagnosis.
If the proposal is approved, member states would have to enforce standards of care for animals, which would only be used as a last resort and in reduced numbers.
"We'll have to drill down into the detail before we really know, but as long as it's based on sound scientific evidence and doesn't unnecessarily increase red tape, then it's welcome," said a spokesman for European drugs industry body EFPIA.
Great apes could only be used in experiments if the survival of the species itself was at stake, or in the case of an unexpected outbreak of a life-threatening or debilitating disease in human beings.
Pressure group Eurogroup for Animals welcomed the proposals but said they had not gone far enough by failing to protect other monkeys.
"A complete ban on all testing on non-human primates was demanded by the European Parliament and they are elected by the people," said a spokesman, warning the EU would have to act quickly to enact the proposals or risk them being stalled by European Parliament elections in June. (Editing by David Holmes)
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