Stop Vivisection: an information gap between citizens and authorities?

On June 3rd, the European Commission rejected the Stop Vivisection Initiative, which asked  to abrogate Directive 2010/63/EU1 on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes and to put forward a new proposal aimed at phasing out the practice of animal experimentation, making compulsory the use - in biomedical and toxicological research - of data directly relevant for the human species.

This was much more than a simple motion. Thanks to a participatory legislative tool introduced in 2012, more than 1.2 million European citizens had signed for this Initiative. It is the new "right of initiative", which allows European citizens to "participate in the shaping of European policies". This is the reason why this fact regards ASSET as well, even if the issue of animal testing is out of project’s scope.

ASSET, as well, aims to involve all the components of society in preparedness towards infectious diseases, listening to opinions, problems and fears from the general public, and at the same time avoiding an abuse of top-down behaviour by experts and public health authorities. And this was the case with the Stop Vivisection Initiative. Common people were moved by animal-rights activists through stories of torture and violence, impressive pictures and videos, and the idea that alternative methods can substitute animal testing now, providing even more safety to patients. Suggesting that Big Pharma has a lot to earn by keeping the status quo was a further convincing argument. By these aspects, this movement is therefore similar to the one that calls against vaccines all over the world, claiming that they are useless, dangerous and provided only to guarantee industry’s revenues.

But are these claims true? Numbers, facts, graphs, tables and experts say no. As well as no serious scientist could say that today we can do without animals in toxicology and biomedical research. The word “vivisection” itself is inappropriate, since animal welfare in Europe, as well as in USA, is a main issue. The 3R rules (“Replace” the animals as soon as possible, “Reduce” their number as much as possible, “Refine” their treatment so that their conditions of life are the best possible) are implemented in each member state’s law. Any procedure, even drawing blood, requires anaesthetic.

European Commission members are well aware of that, since it took five years of passionate debate to get to the Directive 2010/63/EU, which now regulates this issue. They know that there is no more “vivisection”, meant as causing useless pain to animals, in Europe; they listened to Nobel prizes and other top scientists explaining how far we are from having alternative methods for all the phases of biomedical research; they are well aware of the big effort that both European Union and pharmaceutic industry are doing in order to provide new validated test to use instead of animals, since this would save not only animals’ lives, but also time and money.

There was therefore a gap in information between EC members and common citizens, mainly believing, in good faith, that animal testing is a useless cruelty. A condition similar to that of many parents, who are afraid of vaccinating their children against measles, even if the association with autism has been acknowledged as a fraud for many years.

Rebuilding trust needs listening, but providing people with correct information as well. Without forgetting the strength of emotions and how they affects perceptions and ideas, with both kitten and kids. 

MMLAP and other EU Projects

Health system analysis to support capacity development in response to the threat of pandemic influenza in Asia
Making society an active participant in water adaptation to global change
Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation
Engaging all of Europe in shaping a desirable and sustainable future
Expect the unexpected and know how to respond
Driving innovation in crisis management for European resilience
Effective communication in outbreak management: development of an evidence-based tool for Europe
Solutions to improve CBRNe resilience
Network for Communicable Disease Control in Southern Europe and Mediterranean Countries
Developing the framework for an epidemic forecast infrastructure
Strengthening of the national surveillance system for communicable diseases
Surveillance of vaccine preventable hepatitis
European monitoring of excess mortality for public health action
European network for highly infectious disease
Dedicated surveillance network for surveillance and control of vaccine preventable diseases in the EU
Modelling the spread of pandemic influenza and strategies for its containment and mitigation
Cost-effectiveness assessment of european influenza human pandemic alert and response strategies
Bridging the gap between science, stakeholders and policy makers
Promotion of immunization for health professionals in Europe
Towards inclusive research programming for sustainable food innovations
Addressing chronic diseases and healthy ageing across the life cycle
Medical ecosystem – personalized event-based surveillance
Studying the many and varied economic, social, legal and ethical aspects of the recent developments on the Internet, and their consequences for the individual and society at large
Get involved in the responsible marine research and innovation
Knowledge-based policy-making on issues involving science, technology and innovation, mainly based upon the practices in Parliamentary Technology Assessment
Assessment of the current pandemic preparedness and response tools, systems and practice at national, EU and global level in priority areas
Analysis of innovative public engagement tools and instruments for dynamic governance in the field of Science in Society
Public Engagement with Research And Research Engagement with Society
Computing Veracity – the Fourth Challenge of Big Data
Providing infrastructure, co-ordination and integration of existing clinical research networks on epidemics and pandemics
Promote vaccinations among migrant population in Europe
Creating mechanisms for effectively tackling the scientific and technology related challenges faced by society
Improve the quality of indoor air, keeping it free from radon
Improving respect of ethics principles and laws in research and innovation, in line with the evolution of technologies and societal concerns
Investigating how cities in the West securitise against global pandemics
Creating a structured dialogue and mutual learning with citizens and urban actors by setting up National Networks in 10 countries across Europe
Identifying how children can be change agents in the Science and Society relationship
Establishing an open dialogue between stakeholders concerning synthetic biology’s potential benefits and risks
Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence