Animal welfare groups have hit out at Government plans to implement a loophole clause allowing Ireland to carry out experiments that inflict severe pain on animals in spite of an EU directive.
The issue involves Ireland’s transposition of an EU directive aimed at reducing animal pain and suffering and promoting non-animal research methods.
The directive will be transposed into Irish law this month and will become operational from Jan 1.
However, the Government also signalled its intention to implement a loophole clause with the directive, which would allow in "exceptional and scientifically justifiable" instances for "the use of a procedure involving severe pain, suffering or distress that is likely to be long-lasting and cannot be ameliorated", including the use of non-human primates in experiments.
The use of non-human primates for experiments is prohibited in Ireland and the initial position in the directive is the banning of severe and prolonged suffering in lab animals.
Member states must apply to the European Commission for the use of such experiments if they decide to implement the loophole clause.
Health Minister James Reilly defended inclusion of the loophole, despite the fact other countries chose to exclude it when transposing the directive.
"It is clear from the directive that the replacement, refinement, and reduction of animal testing is at the core of this legislation and I strongly endorse this objective," said Dr Reilly.
"Nevertheless, and even if difficult to foresee, it is my considered view that is both reasonable and correct to make provision for exceptional emergency situations that might arise, if only to ensure that the necessary legislative tools are available to deal with such an eventuality."
Dan Lyons of the Irish Anti-Vivisection Society said the decision to implement the loophole clause was vague and unnecessary.
"We are concerned that the minister is hinting at the dilution of Ireland’s ban on the use of non-human primates," says Dr Lyons. "A major problem is that the safeguard clauses are actually wider loopholes than the minister suggests. ‘Scientifically justifiable’ is a meaningless threshold, as it issupposed to be an essential condition for any animal experiment.
"We believe weakening the current ban on inflicting severe and long-lasting pain is a serious risk to animal welfare. Apart from being fundamentally immoral, there is no scientific need to subject animals to this extreme level of suffering.
"We are concerned that this loophole will undermine the drive to minimise cruelty in animal tests, and is inconsistent with the Government’s stated commitment to replacing, reducing and refining animal testing."
However, Dr Lyons welcomed the Government’s commitment of significant resources to facilitate the Irish Medicines Board’s enforcement of the law.
- Conall Ó Fátharta