Sunday, October 03, 2010

A Role for UNESCO Assuring the Ethical Treatment of Laboratory Animals

Source: "ANIMAL RESEARCH: Long-Fought Compromise Reached On European Animal Rules," Gretchen Vogel, Science 24 September 2010: Vol. 329. no. 5999, pp. 1588 - 1589

The European Parliament gave its final approval on 8 September to a new directive spelling out rules governing animal research in academic and industrial labs. The directive will take effect through laws enacted by each member country of the European Union. The rules cover research with all vertebrates and extend coverage for the first time to cephalopods, which include octopi and squid; all research using such animals must pass an ethical evaluation that takes into account possible alternatives and refinements that could improve the welfare of the animal subjects. The directive also sets out for the first time minimum housing and care standards for dozens of the most common animals used in research. The previous E.U. rules on animal research date from 1986, and officials have been working on the new regulations since 2001.

The United States, with a research program comparable in size to that of the European Union, has a complex system of rules governing animal research in laboratories. There are separate rules for non-human primates and other mammals. (There are also rules for research involving livestock outside the laboratory and animals involved in research in the wild.)

UNESCO is the only United Nations Organization with charter authorizing general oversight for science; it has a broad program dealing with the natural sciences as well as a program dealing with the ethics of science and technology. However, other U.N. agencies -- notably WHO, FAO and the UNDP -- also deal with research that involves laboratory animals.

Perhaps this is a time in which UNESCO could play a useful role by convening a working group of U.N. Agencies to discuss the role of the United Nations system in promoting rules that assure the ethical treatment of laboratory animals. Such a group might provide a useful service to the world by creating an online observatory of such rules that exist in individual nations and in regional organizations such as the European Union.

John Daly
The opinions expressed in this posting are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Americans for UNESCO or any other organization.

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