The Italian parliament has voted in favour of introducing extreme restrictions on the use of animals in research — which some scientists say would halt important biomedical research in the country.
But some experts say that this may contravene European Union (EU) legislation — leaving the Italian government with the uncomfortable choice of either upsetting its democratically elected parliament or upsetting the European Commission.
The dilemma arose as the government began earlier this year to prepare legislation required to adopt into national law an EU directive covering the protection of animals for scientific purposes.
The directive, which was approved in 2010 after a long battle, strikes a delicate balance between animal welfare and the needs of biomedical research. It is considered to be among the strictest in the world.
Earlier last month the senate approved a series of amendments that further tighten the directive, and these were rubber-stamped yesterday by the Chamber of Deputies.
The amendments would, for example, forbid the use of nonhuman primates, dogs and cats in research, except in mandatory drug testing or when directly related to translational medicine. They would also forbid procedures that impose mild pain — such as injections — without anaesthesia.
The legislation further prohibits the use of animals in some research areas — such as xenotransplantation, in which cells and tissues are transplanted between species, and addiction. “It’s terrible,” says Gaetano Di Chiara, a pharmacologist at the University of Cagliari, Sardinia. “Drug addiction is a major health issue, and it requires research with animals.”
But Roberto Caminiti, a physiologist at the University of Rome La Sapienza, who chairs the Committee on Animals in Research for the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies, points out that the second article of the EU directive explicitly bars EU member states from ‘gold-plating’ the directive by adding restrictions.
“If the government does actually implement these changes, we will call on the EU to open a procedure against Italy — that’s for sure,” Caminiti says.
The final legislation must be in place by the end of this year.