Government plans to use stray cats and dogs in experiments

When the first emails started coming in saying there was a possibility of using stray cats and dogs in laboratory experiments, I thought the world had gone crazy.

But when it transpired that the UK’s Tory-led government actually seemed to be considering this, my bemusement changed pretty rapidly to extreme concern.

The issue is about the implementation of a new European law on animal welfare (EU Directive 2010/63/EU).  When it was debated in the European Parliament almost two years ago, Labour MEPs were disappointed with the final outcome. We had voted in favour of amendments which would have allowed individual Member States to introduce stricter animal welfare legislation if they wished to, and which would have banned testing on animals in all cases where alternative methods were available. We were disappointed that these amendments were not adopted by the majority of the Parliament.

Even so, the new law represented a significant advance for animal welfare in many Member States, and should lead to improvements for tens of thousands of animals across Europe.

When a new EU law is agreed, member states then have the job of implementing or “transposing” it into their own national law.  The UK had to decide between two options.  They could just “copy out” the Directive straight into UK law, even where this would actually weaken the UK’s higher animal welfare standards.  Alternatively, they could transpose the majority of the new Directive, but retain existing UK standards where they were already higher than the Directive required. 

I’m perfectly clear on this.  In those areas – and animal welfare is a classic example – where we already have higher standards than the rest of Europe, we must retain these.   When I heard that the Government was considering actually lowering standards, I was appalled that this could have led to abandoning the current protection for stray pets. After all, Europe should be a means of raising standards, not an excuse for allowing them to slip.

In fact, the Government has now revised its statement on the issue.  Under pressure from understandably angry animal welfare campaigners, they have now said that they “could not currently envisage” allowing tests on stray cats and dogs.

However, the issue is not yet finally resolved and I am urging anyone who writes on the issue to lobby their Westminster MP to ensure that, when it goes through the Commons, they vote for the highest possible levels of protection for our animals.   


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