In the EU, it is estimated that 179 million Europeans are living with brain conditions, mental and neurological alike. The annual cost of all brain disorders is over € 800 billion per year.
A recent European Citizens’ Initiative, ‘Save cruelty free cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without animal testing’ , calls for the ‘phasing out of the use of animals in science’ and urges the European Commission to ‘commit to a legislative proposal plotting a roadmap to phase-out all animal testing in the EU before the end of the current legislative term’.
The brain community would like to moderate these demands: a complete ban of the use of animals in biomedical research is premature. Although considerable progress has been made using alternatives, most of what can be learned about the brain and behaviour still depends directly, or indirectly, on research in animal models. In the absence of scientifically valid methods that can replace particular animal procedures, phasing out the use of animals in medical research would have major consequences and impact the quest to improve the quality of life of the many citizens affected by brain conditions, neurological and mental alike.
The European Citizens’ Initiative calls for a fixed deadline for phasing out animal experiments in the EU. This is most arbitrary and unrealistic: The EU directive in force already includes the gradual reduction of animal experiments as soon as this is scientifically possible. It is not possible to politically dictate what can be scientifically possible by a certain point in time. The European Commission thus will need to come with clear guidance on what such a phase-out plan might look like and how a target date and possible milestones could be sensibly formulated.