The new application procedure for animal experiment licences is generating a lot of red tape and confusion, say Wageningen animal researchers. The Central Commission on Animal Experiments (CCD) acknowledges transition problems but already sees some improvements.
Photo: Richard Towell / Behaviour ecologists in Wageningen regularly perform experiments with Great Tits
More than a year after the introduction of the new Law on animal experiments, animal scientists are still grumbling. ‘The new procedure is long, complex and expensive,’ says Johan Verreth, professor of Aquaculture and Fisheries. ‘There is a lot of confusion,’ says Marc Naguib, professor of Behavioural Ecology. Researchers often do not have a clear idea of what is expected and they spend more time and money on the procedure than they used to. The internal supervisor for animal experiments within Wageningen UR and the Dutch Association for Behavioural Biology confirm that these problems are being experienced more generally.
‘The Central Commission on Animal Experiments is very aware of the dissatisfaction in the field,’ responds chair Ludo Hellebrekers. He believes it may be a result of the speed at which the new supervision regime was set up after the change to the law. But Hellebrekers says the animal scientists’ complaints are being heard. ‘Many problems from 2015 have already been solved.’
At the end of 2014, the Law on animal experiments was changed to bring the Netherlands in line with European legislation. The changes had a big impact on procedures. Previously, researchers sent their experiment plans to a local Animal Experiments Committee (DEC) made up of scientists and ethicists who examined the proposal. Under the new system the researchers have to submit much more extensive project proposals – after local approval – to the CCD. Once they’ve been given technical approval, the CCD sends them to the DECs for a recommendation, and then scrutinizes the proposal again one last time. A local Animal Welfare Body (IvD) oversees the experiments that come under the licenses granted.
The idea behind this centralized supervision was that it would ensure transparent decisions which did not vary from city to city. But for now, researchers only see disadvantages to the system. ‘Applications now take several months,’ says Naguib. And the CCD certainly doesn’t always agree with the DECs, rejecting quite a lot of proposals even after a positive recommendation.
Last October the CCD stated that 70 percent of the recommendations were being adopted. As expectations and procedures become clearer, this number will go up, says Hellebrekers. ‘It is already about 90 percent but we want to end up at 95 percent at least.’ And he does see an upward trend in the dossiers in terms of ‘quality, completeness and feasibility.’
One thing Hellbrekers cannot do anything about is the higher costs. Behavioural researcher Naguib says these can mount up to 10,000 euros per project. The administrative fees for a licence from the CCD are between 935 and 2500 euros. The new, more complex procedure is in line with requirements from Brussels, says Hellebrekers. This makes higher costs unavoidable.
The researchers hope the problems will prove to be teething troubles. Verreth hopes people will get used to the system so that procedures will run more smoothly as time goes by. ‘We are not against accountability,’ he stresses, ‘but within reason. This doesn’t help us to improve on animal welfare.’