Europe banned the use of great apes in animal testing Wednesday as part of drastically tightened rules to scale back the number of animals used in scientific research.
After two years of heated debate on how to protect animal welfare without scuppering scientific research, the new limits, updating regulations from 1986, were adopted by the European Parliament despite objections from Green MEPs.
Under the new legislations, experiments on great apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are to be banned and "strict" restrictions set on the use of primates in general.
Members of the 27-nation bloc, who are given two years to comply with the rules, also need "to ensure that whenever an alternative method is available, this is used instead of animal testing."
And they must work at "reducing levels of pain inflicted on animals."
Proponents of the abolition of animal testing objected that the new rules failed to go far enough.
"Animals will still be used as guinea pigs," said the Greens in a statement. "They will still suffer pain."
"It is possible to reduce the number of animals used for science without hindering research," added Belgian Green Isballe Durant.
But Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner John Dalli dubbed it "a good compromise on a difficult topic."
"Today we have the chance to bring the EU to the forefront by caring for animals and protecting science," he said.
Other MEPs said the demands of scientific research came over and above animal welfare.
"An animal's an animal and a human being's a human being," said Italian conservative Herbert Dorfmann.
"Medical progress is crucial to humanity and unfortunately, to achieve this progress there must be animal testing."
The legislation notably allows the use of primates in testing illnesses such as Alzheimer's, cancer or Parkinson's disease if there is scientific evidence that the research cannot be achieved without using these species.
To avoid repeated suffering by an animal, it lists different categories of pain that may be inflicted during a test (non-recovery, mild, moderate or severe) and proposes that the same animals be reused only if the pain is classed as "moderate," and provided a vet is consulted.
At the moment some 12 million animals are used each year in scientific experiments in the EU.
The legislation calls for government inspections on a third of national laboratories that use animals, some of which must be unannounced.
Last year the European Union banned the testing of animals for developing cosmetics, except for long-running toxicology tests which will be banned altogether in 2013.Reuse content