On 5 October 2008 the European Commission issued a proposal to amend Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of animals used for experimental or other scientific purposes. The proposal aims to minimise the number of animals used in scientific procedures and to significantly improve the treatment of the animals still needed for safety testing and biomedical research throughout the European Union.

The proposal imposes ethical evaluations and authorisations on all projects using animals and sets minimum requirements for housing and care of experimental animals. It also contains certain restrictions on the use of non-human primates and introduces a ban on the use of great apes—chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans—for scientific purposes. However, EU Member States could be authorised exceptionally to conduct experiments on these apes if the survival of the species is at stake, or in the case of a serious pandemic affecting the human population in Europe.

The measures contained in the proposal are based on the three R’s principle of: (i) replacing animal use in scientific experiments by alternative techniques not using sentient animals; (ii) reducing animal use to an absolute minimum; and (iii) refining animal use so as to cause the least pain, suffering or distress to animals. The Commission considers that, if continually monitored, these measures should significantly improve animal welfare during experimentation.