More research on the protection of test animals needed
Every year, approximately 12 million animals are used in scientific experiments within the European Union, almost 3 million of them only in Germany. The amendment of the animal protection law provides that animals are better protected when used for scientific purposes. One of the special objectives of the new legislation is consistent implementation of the 3R principle, i.e. the avoidance of animal tests by the use of alternative methods (Replacement), reduction of the number of test animals to a minimum (Reduction) and the use of methods in procedures, eliminating or reducing any possible pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm to the animals to a minimum (Refinement). The "Centre for the Documentation and Evaluation of Alternatives to Animal Experiments" (ZEBET), which is located within the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), was founded over 25 years ago with the goal of restricting the use of animals for scientific purposes to the absolutely essential minimum and developing alternative methods. "This important task of ZEBET should be further expanded along with its competence," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "The research on alternative methods to animal experiments must be further intensified. Other important tasks are the advising of competent authorities and scientists and cooperation with the responsible authorities within the European Union and other countries," adds Hensel. Without international validation and recognition of alternative test methods, no progress can be made in the protection of test animals, especially where the safety assessment of drugs, chemicals, and products is required by law.
The third law amending the animal protection law came into force in Germany on 13 July 2013. This law implements on a national level the goals of European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. These goals include implementation of the 3R principle and the promotion and development of alternative methods. ZEBET has been promoting research projects in Germany at the BfR since 1990, as well as conducting its own research on the development and validation of alternative methods to animal testings. Several of these new methods have already received international recognition and been anchored in the directives of the EU and OECD as official test methods. ZEBET has been particularly involved with alternative methods for testing the tolerance of cosmetics on the skin and in the eyes. Today, reconstructed human skin can be used instead of rabbits. In addition to this, ZEBET scientists are developing alternative methods for predicting developmental toxicity properties: with the help of embryonic stem cells, they examine whether chemicals and drugs could harm embryos if used during pregnancy.
Within the scope of the third law amending the animal protection law, lawmakers have given the BfR the legal mandate to publish anonymously, generally understandable, non-technical project summaries of authorized animal experiment projects in Germany. The AnimalTestInfo database makes these generally understandable project summaries available to the general public. It contains all of the projects which were applied for by the scientific research institutes of the universities, as well as industrial enterprises and federal government bodies, and being authorized by the competent authorities of each federal state. The new database provides the BfR with important information about future research areas for alternative methods, because the fundamental goal remains to replace animal testing to the greatest possible extent.
About the BfR
The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.