EUs Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes

The EU has had specific legislation covering the use of animals for scientific purposes since 1986. On 22 September 2010 the EU adopted Directive 2010/63/EU which updates and replaces the 1986 Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes. The Directive took full effect in the EU on 1 January 2013. The EU Commission maintains a comprehensive website about the Directive.

When the Lisbon Treaty came into force in 2009, it introduced the recognition that animals are sentient beings, by amending the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).

A description of the EU protection of farm animals (which are often used in research), and the concept of The Five Freedoms, is available here.

Directive 2010/63 was amended in 2019 by Regulation (EU) 2019/1010 to incorporate ambitious goals for reporting and transparency to help progress towards the ultimate goal of total replacement of animal use: Member States shall collect and make publicly available, on an annual basis, statistical information on the use of animals in procedures, including information on the actual severity of the procedures and on the origin and species of non-human primates used in procedures.

Norway implemented most of the Directive through national legislation on 1 July 2015 and then via the European Economic Area Agreement (EØS-avtalen) on 1 August 2016.

The Three Rs are implicitly mentioned in the Directive as an obligation for all those involved in the use of animals for scientific purposes.

The 2010/63 Directive includes a new definition of the categories of personnel who are involved in animal research. The functions are:

  • a: those carrying out procedures on animals
  • b: those designing procedures and projects
  • c: those taking care of animals
  • d: those killing animals

These functions must not be confused with the old FELASA categories A-D, which were very different.

The Directive includes the following Annexes:

The Commission writes:

'The aim of the new Directive is to strengthen legislation, and improve the welfare of those animals still needed to be used, as well as to firmly anchor the principle of the Three Rs, to Replace, Reduce and Refine the use of animals, in EU legislation.

The Directive is firmly based on the principle of the Three Rs, to replace, reduce and refine the use of animals used for scientific purposes.

The scope is now wider and includes foetuses of mammalian species in their last trimester of development and cephalopods, as well as animals used for the purposes of basic research, higher education and training.

It lays down minimum standards for housing and care, regulates the use of animals through a systematic project evaluation requiring inter alia assessment of pain, suffering distress and lasting harm caused to the animals.

It requires regular risk-based inspections and improves transparency through measures such as publication of non-technical project summaries and retrospective assessment.

The development, validation and implementation of alternative methods is promoted through measures such as establishment of a Union reference laboratory for the validation of alternative methods supported by laboratories within Member States and requiring Member States to promote alternative methods at national level.'

The text of the Directive and many resources about its use are available at:

This website includes sections on:

The Commission has produced a glossary of terms to aid correct reporting.

The journal Laboratory Animals has published ESLAV/ECLAM/LAVA/EVERI recommendations for the roles, responsibilities and training of the laboratory animal veterinarian and the designated veterinarian under Directive 2010/63/EU. These provide professional guidance on the role and postgraduate training of laboratory animal veterinarians, who may be working as designates veterinarians under the Directive.

A comparison of directives 86/609/EEC and 2010/63/EU

Article 58 of the Directive required the Commission to review it by 10 November 2017. This process is described here and the Report is available here.

A European Citizens Initiative entitled Stop Vivisection to abrogate the Directive resulted in a public meeting, entitled Non-Animal Approaches - the Way Forward, for the stakeholders which was held in Brussels on 6-7 December 2016 (Conference Report). The Commission's response to the Initiative can be read here.

This page was updated on 25 November 2021

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