Animal testing legislation in Belgium

The legislation on animal research and testing in Europe and in Belgium has evolved hugely since 1986, and has been regularly updated and tightened.

Animal testing legislation started in 1986

On 18 March, 1986, the Council of Europe published the ‘Convention for the Protection of Vertebrate Animals used for Experimental and Other Scientific Purposes’, with the aim of reducing the number of animals used for testing, and improving the welfare of these animals. Subsequently, the European Union released its first directive concerning the protection of laboratory animals (86/609/EEC), obliging member states to transpose the content into national law. The directive limited the protection of ‘laboratory animals’ to all living vertebrates and free-living larval forms of these animals.

The Belgian law of 14 August, 1986 was passed as a consequence, concerning the protection of the welfare of animals which included a chapter dedicated to the protection of laboratory animals. This law came into force following the royal decree of 14 November, 1993, and covered the protection of laboratory animals. The decree was regularly amended, with the result that Belgian legislation was often ahead of the rest of Europe, with measures including, amongst others, the obligatory registration of animal testing laboratories (and breeders and other providers of laboratory animals). This was accompanied by regulations on the origin and tracing of laboratory animals. Another new element was the compulsory establishment (in 2001) of local Ethics Committees which animal laboratories had to join, and a clear description of what training should be undergone by people working with laboratory animals (in 2004).

In subsequent years, Belgium tightened animal research and testing legislation by adding various significant restrictions:

  • prohibition of animal testing to assess skin corrosion and phototoxicity (royal decree of 30 November 2001)
  • prohibition of the production of monoclonal antibodies using the ascites method (royal decree of 25 April 2004)
  • prohibition of animal testing for the production of cosmetic products (royal decree of 19 January 2005)
  • prohibition of animal testing for the development of tobacco products (royal decree of 28 October 2008)
  • prohibition of research and testing on chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans (royal decree of 6 May 2009)

2010: European legislation leads the way

The European Directive from 1986 was thoroughly revised in 2010 (2010/63/EU). Among other changes, the new directive sets further requirements for animal enclosures and animal welfare, while for the first time also providing a framework for the adoption of laboratory animals. Animal research and testing here is defined as operations for experimental or educational purposes “which may cause the animal a level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to, or higher than, that caused by the insertion of a needle in accordance with good veterinary practice”.

The 2010 directive also adds octopus and related species (Cephalopoda), and foetal mammals (in the final third stage of development) to the list of protected laboratory animals. In addition, it refers to the principle of the three R's (refinement, reduction and replacement), and sets the ultimate goal of using procedures without live animals.

Belgium adapted its own legislation to conform with the European Directive, adding a number of amendments to the Animal Welfare Act (on 27 December 2012) and publishing the royal decree of 29 May 2013 as a new benchmark for the protection of laboratory animals. Among other measures, this saw the introduction of a requirement that an animal welfare body be established for each animal research and testing laboratory.

In 2014, animal welfare became a regional competence. The royal decree of 2013 was adapted to conform with the decree by means of a Flemish government decree on 17 February 2017. As a result of the 2013 royal decree, the Flemish Committee on Laboratory Animals (Vlaamse Proefdierencommissie) was also established.