Dáil Éireann - Volume 446 - 02 November, 1994

Written Answers. - Experiments on Live Animals.

[1568] 183. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health, in respect of the year ended 31 December 1992, the number of inspections carried out by officials at his Department of places registered under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876; whether prior notice of those inspections was given by officials of his Department to the occupants of the places inspected; the number of infringements discovered in the course of such inspections; the number of licences suspended or withdrawn; the number of certificates suspended or disallowed as a consequence of such inspections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2547/94]

184. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health the plans, if any, he has to encourage the allocation of funding, provided under the aegis of his Department for medical research, towards the development of experimental methods which may replace existing methods involving painful experiments on living animals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2548/94]

185. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health whether he has satisfied himself that the policy followed by his Department in relation to the release of details of places registered under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, and the identities of persons holding licences under that Act is in keeping with the stated commitment of the Government to greater freedom of information. [2549/94]

186. Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health the action, if any, he will take in respect of E.C. Directive 86/609 on the use of animals for experimental purposes and his Department's review of the existing statutory controls on experiments on live animals in view of the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of vertebrate animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes and E.C. Directive 86/609 on [1569] the approximation of laws; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2550/94]

Minister for Health (Mr. Howlin): I propose to answer Questions Nos. 183 to 186, inclusive, together.

Inspections are carried out by officials of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forestry as well as by officers from my Department and comprehensive statistics of inspections are not held centrally. Such inspections take place with no advance warning to the animal house involved. No infringements were reported to my Department for the year 1992.

Directive 86/609EEC on the Protection of Animals used for Scientific and other Experimental Purposes was implemented here by statutory regulation. Persons wishing to engage in experiments on living animals must be licensed by the Minister for Health under the Cruelty to Animals Act, 1876, as amended to take account of Directive 86/609EEC. Applicants must submit detailed application forms which are scrutinised by inspectors appointed under the Act. The experiment or procedure on live animals for which a licence is being sought must be certified as being essential and that no alternative technique to the use of animals is available. There are also strict controls on the sources of supply of animals.

I am anxious to keep the level of experimentation on live animals to the absolute minimum and to ensure that no pain, suffering distress or lasting harm are inflicted unnecessarily. However, the balance of medical and scientific opinion at present is that properly controlled animal experimentation does contribute to advances which lead to the saving of human life and the alleviation of human suffering. Some experimentation will therefore continue to be necessary in the public interest.

Applicants for licences to conduct experiments on living animals are advised that the information contained in their licence applications will be [1570] treated in confidence by the licensing authority and the inspectors. I am satisfied that the degree of confidentiality allowed to licence holders and institutions in this regard is reasonable. Directive 86/609 recognises that in exchanging information between member states in this area the requirements of confidentiality be respected.

Funding for mediccal research is allocated by the Health Research Board on the basis of proposals submitted by individual agencies such as teaching hospitals and universities. The board has not to date received any proposals for projects to develop alternative methods of research not involving painful experiments on living animals. The European Commission has recently approved the establishment of a European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods. This centre is being set up to encourage the development and validation of alternative techniques which would involve fewer animals and less painful procedures and ultimately to replace animal testing with reliable non-animal methods. I welcome the initiative taken by the Commission in this area.