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Countries split over ability to comply with EU animal rules

Czech Republic says compliance ‘not possible’, while Hungary and Poland point to improvements

The Czech Republic has said that EU rules around oversight of animal experiments are impossible to implement, after the European Commission identified shortcomings in its inspections of research facilities.

However, the majority of member states are following the rules. Meanwhile Hungary, which was also found wanting, has said it is taking steps to demonstrate compliance.

Under EU law, one-third of animal research establishments should be inspected per year and “an appropriate portion” of inspections should come without warning.

But according to a 6 February report from the Commission, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Malta, Poland and Portugal reported carrying out no unannounced inspections whatsoever from 2013 to 2017. Hungary reportedly inspected fewer than one-third of user establishments in each of those years.

A spokesperson for the Czech ministry of agriculture told Research Professional News that, “Unannounced inspections are not possible because of the (closed and strict) character of work at scientific workplaces regarding safety and observing hygiene.”

They also said inspections had to be flagged in advance, as “during the inspection a person must be present appointed by the statutory body of the breeder, supplier or user of experimental animals”.

The data in the report show that most member states have no such problems. On average in 2017, 40 per cent of inspections carried out across the EU were performed with no prior warning. In some years 100 per cent of inspections were unannounced in Croatia, Estonia and Lithuania.

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government said that the ministry of agriculture found the Commission report “concerning” and that it had started looking into the matter.

“Statistically the number of investigations carried out by our competent authority indeed seems to be under the obligatory one-third of user establishments,” they admitted. But they suggested that this was because the number of establishments approved to conduct experiments was different to the number actually performing them, and that the rules would only apply to the latter.

They added that, nevertheless, “It was decided to carry out the appropriate measures in favour of meeting the statistical criteria in the future. The welfare of laboratory animals is an important issue and the ministry of agriculture will do its utmost to improve official controls in this area.”

A spokesperson for the Polish government said that the country introduced the EU laws in 2015, so was exempted from reporting in 2013-14. They said that in 2015 inspections mostly took place in accordance with previous rules.

In 2016-17, Poland’s General Veterinary Inspectorate did not provide the science ministry with data on unannounced inspections, the spokesperson said. Data were provided for the first time in 2018, they said, when 42 per cent of 77 inspections of facilities that use animals in research were carried out without warning.

The governments of Cyprus, Malta and Portugal did not respond to requests for comment.