Universities focus on animal testing
Effective research often requires animal testing, such as the development of new medicines, or research on serious illnesses and animal treatment.
To ensure that animal testing is only applied when strictly necessary, universities are working on what is called the ‘3R policy’. Where possible, universities (1) Replace animal testing with alternatives; (2) Reduce the number of laboratory animals, and (3) Refine research in order to keep animal suffering or discomfort to a minimum. The universities and university medical centres (UMCs) release data on their animal testing via the ‘Animal Testing Annual Report’ (Jaarverslag dierproeven), as well as through public information, tours and articles.
Laboratory animal numbers reduced
Between 1978 and 2016, laboratory animal numbers dropped by 74.3%. According to the annual laboratory animal testing report (‘Zo doende’; i.e. ‘In action’) issued by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), in 2016 a total of 403,370 animals were used for testing purposes. Of this number, 151,160 (37.5%) were tested at universities and university medical centres. As shown in the table below, the vast majority of these animals were mice and rats. However, some areas require research on non-human primates, such as monkeys. In such cases there are no alternatives available, as the animals’ anatomy and physiology must resemble that of humans as closely as possible. Testing on anthropoids such as chimpanzees and gorillas is prohibited in the Netherlands.
Strict permits for different test types
Animal testing is subject to strict government regulations, and requires multiple permit types. At the same time, the government also makes animal testing mandatory, as drugs and other products must be deemed safe before becoming available to humans. This type of testing is not common at Dutch universities, although fundamental and applied scientific research is conducted on drugs, diseases, etc. Some education programmes also use animal testing, such as veterinary science. The European Union prohibits the use of animals to test cosmetics or their ingredients.
Science invests in alternatives to animal testing
Universities are working to develop alternatives to animal testing. They have opened special institutes, and appointed professors whose goal is to research animal-testing alternatives and instruct researchers on their use. Researchers are also increasing the effectiveness of animal testing by using the tissues of existing laboratory animals for further research, developing computer models, or through the use of synthetic tissues to replace the animals entirely.
The animal-testing application process
Many steps are required before laboratory animals are released to researchers for testing purposes. First of all an institution must apply for an animal testing permit from the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA). Next, a plan and non-technical summary must be submitted to an Animal Welfare Institute (IVD: Instantie voor Dierenwelzijn). A research permit application is also sent to the Central Authority for Scientific Procedures on Animals (CCD), which decides whether to approve the application based on a recommendation by the Animal Experiments Committee (DEC: Dierexperimentencommissie).
Researchers can proceed with the testing once the permit has been issued. The non-technical summary is published by the CCD. A recognised stakeholder (e.g. the Dutch Society for the Protection of Animals) can also lodge an objection to the permit issued. The NVWA investigates whether the animal testing regulations are being followed, and the IVD ensures that the research is carried out properly using the right techniques. If any violations are observed, the permit holder is given an official warning and must take steps to resolve the violation.