Legislation passed by the European Parliament this September will prohibit member states from using great apes in nearly all research starting in 2013. The mandate also requires a reduction in the number of animals used in research and establishes a central laboratory responsible for coordinating and promoting the development and use of alternatives to animal testing.
The new law follows two years of contentious debate over how best to balance the interests of animals with the needs of society. Janez Potonik, the European Environment commissioner, says the vote concluded a long negotiation process that illustrated the importance of and sensitivities surrounding animal research.
"The European Union will soon have the highest standards of experimental-animal welfare in the world," he said.
Under the law, great apes such as chimpanzees and orangutans can be used in research only in instances in which the survival of the species itself is at stake or unexpected disease outbreaks threaten human life.
Researchers wanting to conduct research involving animals will first have to conduct ethical evaluations to receive approval and will have to provide the animals better housing and care than they have in the past. Facilities wanting to breed, supply, or use animals for education, training, and basic research will have to receive authorization.
Additionally, staff working with research animals must not only be adequately trained but also demonstrate their competence before working with the animals unsupervised.
The new law replaces the nearly 25-year-old European Union directive regulating the more than 12 million animals used in EU laboratories annually.