The Parliament's portrayal of its compromise on the directive on animal experiments was distorted.
It is not often that an NGO congratulates the European Parliament press office, but we are moved to do so on this occasion.
In December, a provisional compromise was reached at trialogue on the revision to the animal experiments directive (“Spot-checks for labs running animal tests”, 17 December-6 January) and the press office duly reported it, based on information provided by Elisabeth Jeggle MEP, the rapporteur. But there were several serious errors in the press office's statement.
For example, it said that the new legislation would require compulsory assessment of each proposed animal experiment. In fact, this would not be required for huge swathes of safety testing.
Similarly, the statement claimed that a non-animal method would have to be used whenever it was scientifically valid. In fact, the trialogue compromise would only require this for regulatory testing, which accounts for just 22% of animal testing in the EU. The statement also gave the impression that animal experiments would be allowed only for vital medical research. In fact, animals could be used for all kinds of product testing (including trivial products), disease in plants, forensic inquiries, higher education and species preservation. Even primates (other than great apes) could be used for just about any purpose.
We pointed out these and other errors, and to its credit the press office has issued a revised statement.
It remains partially misleading: for example, it quotes Jeggle as saying “we were particularly pleased to see that the Council accepted our position with regard to inspections” when, in fact, the compromise substitutes the Parliament's requirement for annual inspections with inspections every three years.
Nonetheless, the press office has behaved as an EU institution should. Press officers can, of course, reflect the emphases that their political masters wish to give, but they must be careful not to be used by politicians to give inaccurate and misleading spin.
Just before Christmas, the Council rejected the trialogue
compromise. Huge improvements need to be made if the revised directive is to
reflect public opinion and evolving science. There is much still to play for –
but let the debate be carried out in a spirit of openness and honesty.