‘Best practice and alternatives to animal experiments in education and training’ seminar held in Zagreb 

A full-day seminar titled ‘Best practice and alternatives to animal experiments in education and training’ was held in Zagreb on 24 October 2016 at the Office for Veterinary Affairs and Food Safety at the Ministry of Agriculture of the Government of Croatia.

The event was a collaboration between InterNICHE, Animal Friends Croatia (Prijatelji Životinja) and the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Head of the National Ethics Committee opened the meeting, and the Assistant to the Minister conveyed the Minister’s support. Around 30 participants from across the country attended, including Ministry officials, teachers and representatives of local ethics committees from different universities.

The program was developed by InterNICHE and Animal Friends, an InterNICHE Partner organisation. InterNICHE Co-ordinator Nick Jukes introduced replacement alternatives and their successful implementation, with video clips and demonstrations. He addressed the benefits of alternatives for students and trainees by exploring their pedagogical, ethical and economic advantages, with reference to published studies. And he gave an overview of the resources available to support replacement in education and training, including a review of the content and functionality of the InterNICHE website.

Progress towards replacement in Serbia, with reflections on the opportunities and challenges associated with ethical committees, was explored in a presentation by Dr Katarina Novaković
from InterNICHE Partner organisation ORCA from Serbia.

A Multimedia Exhibition, with demonstrations and trial of models, mannekins, simulators, software and virtual reality video clips, was also held. This provided hands-on experience of a range of items from the InterNICHE Alternatives Loan System.

There has been some positive progress in Croatia during the past 2 years as universities and ethical committees take alternatives more seriously and decline some requests for harmful animal use, guided by the existing 2006 Animal Protection Act and the draft new Animal Protection Act. The latter reflects Directive 2010/63/EU from the European Commission on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, which now includes education and training.

Individuals from Animal Friends participate in ethical committees locally and at the national level, and more respect for the animal protection representatives and their judgement is now apparent. This reflects the legislative imperatives in favour of alternatives, the positive cultural changes within the ethical committees, and the competence of the campaigners. The informed reflections on ethical committees by Dr Novaković provided valuable input to the event and generated much discussion.

While the participants were fairly well-informed about alternatives in education and training, the seminar presented them with a comprehensive overview and detailed exploration of humane tools and approaches. Considering that teachers sometimes do not apply to the ethical committees to use animals, as they are required to, it is important for the government to recognise that there is unauthorised animal use and for the ethical committees to fulfil their obligation effectively to promote and help implement alternatives.

Feedback was that the event had further developed the participants’ understanding of the potential of alternatives for replacement. InterNICHE argued for full and faster replacement - an argument based on the availability of suitable alternatives and the potential for creative use of combinations of these tools and approaches; on the examples of implementation already achieved worldwide; and on their multiple positive impact of innovative approaches.

Resources produced in Serbia are now being shared with the participants in Croatia. These include a workbook for practical classes in physiology, produced by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Belgrade. This publication guides the learning of physiology through the use of a range of alternatives, and had its origin in good campaigner-teacher networking at earlier ORCA outreach in the country.

With significant input from Dr Novaković and following a period of progressive social activism in the country, former President of Serbia Boris Tadić signed the ORCA Resolution on Animal Welfare in 2005, leading to the first Animal Protection Act passing in 2009. Article 44 of the law states that harmful use of animals in primary and secondary schools as well as in undergraduate studies is banned. The text of Article 44 closely reflects the InterNICHE Policy.

Harmful animal use at primary and secondary level is already banned in Croatia. Collaboration between InterNICHE and Animal Friends will continue, with a view to further progressing the replacement of harmful animal use in higher education.

Following the government-hosted seminar, an evening talk and demonstration of alternatives was held at the Animal Friends offices in Zagreb for the general public.

Animal Friends seminar co-organiser Maja Orešković Igrić from Croatia and Dr Novaković from Serbia have now become National Contacts and Committee Members for InterNICHE.

Read a major news article on the issue from the national daily newspaper Jutarni List here.

The outreach was supported by the International Association Against Painful Experiments on Animals (IAAPEA).