EFSA opinion on welfare of laboratory animals

The Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has published an Opinion on aspects of the biology and welfare of laboratory animals. The Opinion includes recommendations on the humane killing of laboratory animals and improved welfare for certain invertebrate species and fetuses. It also suggests that some of the most commonly used species of laboratory animals continue to be bred specifically for their use in scientific experiments as this provides for better welfare and good science.

The European Commission asked EFSA to provide advice on animal welfare aspects related to the revision of the European Directive [1] on the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes. One of the main issues covered in EFSA’s Opinion and Report is the humane killing of laboratory animals at the end of an experiment and in certain laboratory practices. In order to protect and improve animal welfare, the AHAW Panel recommends the most appropriate and humane killing methods and provides some more specific recommendations.

EFSA was also asked to determine if pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm could be experienced by invertebrates and by fetuses. According to the AHAW Panel, this is the case for some invertebrates and for fetuses in the latter stages of development. The Panel therefore recommends improving welfare for certain invertebrate species [2] and for fetuses that are in the last third of gestation [3].

In addition, EFSA was also asked to propose key criteria to determine if and when animals used in experiments should be bred specifically for experiments (‘purpose-bred’) and to determine which species meet these criteria. The Panel considers that the most commonly used species of laboratory animals should continue to be purpose bred with only a few justified exceptions. Purpose breeding provides a better alternative to the use of domesticated or wild animals, thus improving the suitability of animals for scientific experiments, reducing the number of animals required and generally improving animal welfare.

EFSA’s Acting Executive Director Herman Koëter added: “I am very pleased with the detailed advice provided by the Panel on such a difficult and sensitive issue as pain and distress in laboratory animals. This opinion has shown that EFSA is well placed to provide scientific advice on all aspects of animal welfare.

During the development of the Opinion, EFSA included stakeholderorganisations in the process, providing them with the opportunity to give scientific input and make suggestions for independent scientific experts to participate in the preparatory work of the report.

Notes to editors

The Panel based its Opinion on scientific evidence and did not take into consideration any ethical, socio-economic, human safety, cultural or religious aspects.

EFSA provides scientific advice on food and feed safety based on the most recent and available sound scientific data, some of which is collected from animal studies. EFSA also deals with animal health and welfare issues, primarily relating to food-producing animals. EFSA is developing a proactive animal welfare policy aimed at stimulating the development of risk assessment approaches which encourage the reduction, refinement (i.e. improving quality of life and limiting suffering) and replacement, where possible, of the use of experimental animals. This work will be carried out based on sound scientific principles and without compromising the integrity of EFSA’s risk assessment procedures and the high scientific quality of its work.

[1] Directive 86/609/EEC seeks to improve controls on the use of laboratory animals, encourage the development and validation of alternative testing methods and set minimum standards for housing and care of animals and training of personnel.
[2] Cyclostomes (lampreys and hagfish), cephalopods (octopods, squid, cuttlefish, nautiloids) and decapod crustaceans (lobsters, crabs, prawns, etc.).
[3] The Panel indicates that this protection period could even be earlier if it is scientifically proven that the fetus is experiencing pain, distress or lasting harm.

Media contacts