Nearly half a million animals killed in Belgian laboratories in 2020

Nearly half a million animals killed in Belgian laboratories in 2020
Credit: Belga / Olivier Matthys

Animal testing in Belgium resulted in the deaths of 437,275 animals across Belgium in 2020. Some of the gruesome details are shocking. While some animals die while testing important drugs and medicines, others are killed on much more dubious grounds.

In Wallonia, some animals were forced to swim until exhaustion or even made to become addicted to alcohol, all using Walloon taxpayer money, Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique reveals.

Under current legislation, Walloon citizens have no oversight over how taxpayer money is used to fund animal experimentation, especially as influential lobbies are blocking a decree proposed by the Walloon Minister for Animal Welfare, Céline Tellier.

A recent white paper from two veterinarians, Solange t’Kint and André Ménache, from the Suppression of Animal Experiments Association (SEA) is putting the issue under the spotlight again, calling into question the air of secrecy around Belgian animal testing.

“For decades, animal protection associations have denounced the degrading treatment and great suffering inflicted on animals in the secrecy of laboratories,” the open letter says. Belgian animal testing centres claim that they have nothing to hide and attempt to counter what they view as emotional language from animal rights protestors to sway public opinion.

In a 2016 manifesto signed by 22 Belgian research centres and companies, Belgian animal treatment plants stated that they “recognise and respect that some people oppose the use of animals in research” but called for “clear and honest information about the benefits of research for humans and animals.”

Aggressive pro-testing lobbying

In 2020, Minister Tellier attempted to submit a decree providing greater government oversight to animal testing projects within Belgium. The proposals would have also encouraged laboratories to use alternative testing methods. This was ultimately blocked by Belgian universities, who decried the minister’s “bias based on a barely veiled desire to make the use of animals impossible.”

The open later complains that the Walloon government’s inability to regulate the industry has made it above the law. Even Wallonia’s committee for protection of experimental animals is now dominated by animal testing lobbyists, the open latter claims, with nearly 90% of the board linked to universities, users of products that use animals testing, animal testing interests, and others.

The blocking of reforms by the animal testing lobby groups, the SEA says, is “the promise of greater suffering for animals in laboratories.” Indeed, 47,040 animals undertook “severe gravity” experiments in 2020, which are those deemed to be extremely painful to the animals. These experiments are funded by Belgian taxpayer money.

The veterinarians decry the lack of oversight into the animal testing industry and the stacking of regulatory committees by those in favour of animal experimentation. The group warns that the lack of transparency will ultimately come at the cost of the public.

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“The legislator will only be able to maintain the confidence of citizens if he ceases to bend in the face of blackmail by animal experimenters,” the two vets affirm.

Within Belgium’s capital of Brussels, animal experimentation is already falling out of favour. The level of animal testing has dropped by a third in five years. In 2020, 56,000 animals were used for experiments in the capital.

In June, dancing activists took to Brussels’ Place du Luxembourg to call for an EU-wide phase-out of animal testing, starting with the cosmetics industry. PETA claims that more than 9 million animals were used in experiments in the EU in 2017.

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