Animal advocates and ethical research experts have condemned today's EU science committee hearing on primate research because of what they describe as 'blatant pro-animal-research bias'.
They claim the committee's draft opinion released today ignores scientific evidence of the limitations of primate research and downplays the potential of advanced alternative techniques.
Leading non-animal medical-research charity, the Dr Hadwen Trust, says it may be an uncomfortable truth for scientists, but some adult primates have mental abilities greater than human infants, so an EU-wide strategy to replace them with alternative techniques is 'a matter of moral as well as scientific urgency'.
The EU Commission requested an opinion from the Scientific Committee on Health Environmental Risks (Scher) as part of the revision of Directive 86/609/EEC, Europe's 'animal experiments law'.
A proposal to revise this law was published yesterday.
The commission has been under pressure to examine the ethical and scientific case for an EU phase-out of primate research and testing.
In September 2007 the European Parliament voted to support a written declaration demanding an end to research on great apes and wild-caught primates and an EU phase-out of all primate-research, replacing it with ethical alternative research techniques.
Scher's draft opinion has been circulated ahead of today's meeting.
Nicky Gordon, science officer at the Dr Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, says Scher has failed to produce a scientifically balanced or accurate draft opinion on primate research and alternatives.
Gordon said: 'This public consultation could and should have resulted in a turning point in bioethics, mapping out what needs to be done to achieve primate-free laboratories.
'Instead it has produced what reads like a counsel of doom, sacrificing ethical and scientific vision on the altar of maintaining the status quo.
'Its blind acceptance of the validity of primate research in areas such as neurology, stroke and AIDS, despite clear evidence to the contrary, betrays an astonishing bias and it seriously underplays the immense potential of more relevant non-animal techniques.
'Almost 10,500 primates are subjected to experiments in Europe every year, despite many of them having cognitive abilities more advanced than human babies.
'That may be an uncomfortable truth for some scientists, but with their potential to suffer and such a poor record of medical success, a high-priority strategy to replace primates is a matter of moral and scientific urgency.
'Advanced techniques like human brain imaging, computer modelling and human cell culture are already replacing primates with studies more relevant to human patients.
'With further technology development, total replacement is achievable but Scher seems to be ignoring that path to progress.' The Dr Hadwen Trust will make a formal complaint to the European Commission.