End to experiments on chimpanzees in Europe

Europe's last remaining colony of chimpanzees used for scientific experiments could be disbanded within weeks after a damning report into their continued captivity.

Europe's last remaining colony of chimpanzees used for scientific experiments could be disbanded within weeks after a damning report into their continued captivity.

A high-level team of scientific advisers to the Dutch government has called for the ending of experiments involving more than 100 chimpanzees at the Biomedical Research Centre at Rijswijk. The recommendation comes in a report to the Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science, who is expected to follow the advice and press for the chimpanzees to be released into "retirement" homes in zoos or animal sanctuaries. The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences recommends that the centre's research programme involving chimps be run down and closed because the work can be done at a more suitable primate research centre in America.

"In general, the committee is of the opinion that experiments involving chimpanzees are only acceptable where there is a serious threat to public health and there are convincing arguments that such research can avert that threat or reduce the number of victims significantly," the academy's report says. Although one research project into a new hepatitis C vaccine involving a handful of chimps does fit in with this proviso, the academy says that even this should be phased out.

The closure of the chimpanzee colony marks an important victory for opponents of the research, led by scientific celebrities such as Sir David Attenborough, Desmond Morris and the veteran primatologist Jane Goodall.

A growing number of scientists believe that little benefit is gained from work on chimpanzees now that it is possible genetically to modify laboratory rats and mice to mimic human diseases. Even the Home Office has questioned the use of chimps in research, saying that their sentience raises fundamental questions about the ethics of experimenting on man's closest living relative.

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