By Martin Banks - 19th July 2012
This issue is enormously important
The EU ombudsman Nikiforos Diamandorous has criticised the commission over the selection of experts to review the use of primates in experiments.
His inquiry comes in a response to a 2007 parliamentary declaration, signed by 433 MEPs, calling on the commission to bring forward proposals to replace primate use.
In May 2008, the commission asked one of its standing scientific committees, the scientific committee on health and scientific risks (SCHER), to conduct an inquiry into whether primate research works and the alternatives to it.
The committee's report strongly backed the use of primates in research and played down the role and potential of alternative non-animal methods.
It contained no proposals to phase out primate use.
The European coalition to end animal experiments (ECEAE) subsequently complained to Diamandorous that the working group set up by SCHER was imbalanced and lacked the necessary expertise.
Nine out of 11 of the committee's experts were said to be animal researchers and it is claimed that none were experts in primate research.
In addition, it is said that only one member had experience in alternatives to the use of primates.
The ECEAE argued that "it was hardly surprising" that SCHER produced such a "biased and inadequate" report.
The report allegedly failed to refer to most of the "huge swathe" of scientific evidence showing that primate research for human diseases simply does not work, and detailing the potential of non-animal methods.
In his report, Strasbourg-based Diamandouros expressed concerns about how the experts were chosen.
This failed he said, to guarantee necessary "excellence, independence, impartiality and transparency".
He has now issued a draft recommendation that the commission change its procedures for involving experts with a "public call" in future cases.
The Greek-born official did not identify any obvious error in the way the working group assessed the evidence submitted to it and said he did not regard it as his role to assess the evidence himself.
However, the ECEAE maintains that, if the wrong experts are chosen, it is "inevitable" that the report they produce will be "flawed".
Reaction to his findings came from Michelle Thew, ECEAE chief executive, who said, "We are pleased that the ombudsman has identified problems with the selection of experts for the inquiry into the use of primates in research.
"A recent opinion poll by YouGov in the UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and the Czech Republic showed that 81 per cent of people are opposed to experiments on primates causing pain or suffering, as all primate experiments inevitably do.
"This issue is enormously important not only for animal welfare but also for human health.
"It is unforgivable that the EU should have come up with such a one-sided and unscientific report, from a working group packed with animal researchers, and that as a result, subsequent EU legislation has failed to give primates the protection the public clearly wants."
She added, "This is damning criticism of the commission, which has refused to accept that it did anything wrong with this inquiry.
"Extraordinarily, the commission argued that scientists attached to organisations working on alternatives to using animals in research are not fit to serve on its working groups, whereas animal researchers are - clear evidence of a deep-rooted bias in favour of animal research."
Meanwhile, Diamandouros has welcomed the commission's announcement that it will review its "early warning system"(EWS).
The EWS consists of a database containing the names of persons or companies deemed to pose a threat to the financial interests of the EU.
The review covers changes aimed at ensuring that the operation of the EWS respects fundamental rights, such as the "right to be heard".
The commission's announcement this week follows the ombudsman's inquiry and subsequent public consultation on the EWS.
Diamandouros said: "The EWS is an important means of protecting EU funds. It is in the interest of European citizens that the EWS works correctly.
"I commend the commission's intention to introduce adequate checks and balances, so as to ensure that the operation of the EWS complies with the charter of fundamental rights of the EU which is binding on all EU institutions."