Animal experimentation: are we allowed to do that? In this thematic portal, researchers of the Swiss Laboratory Animal Science Association give answers to frequently asked questions.

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Legislation and ban

For which experiments are primates allowed to be used?

In principle, primates may be used under the same conditions as other animals (see also legislation). In 2006, the National Council dealt with a parliamentary initiative on the "ban on moderately and severely distressful animal experiments on primates", which was rejected by the responsible committee. In 2016, the motion 15.4241 | Ban on distressful animal experiments on primates | Business | The Swiss Parliament was rejected by the Federal Council. In both cases, the parliamentarians argued that the Animal Protection Act already regulates these experiments. Among other things, it states that experiments may only be carried out on evolutionarily superior animals (e.g. monkeys) if the purpose cannot be achieved with evolutionarily inferior species (e.g. rats) or suitable alternative methods. In Switzerland, therefore, distressful animal experiments may be carried out on primates, but no experiments are carried out on great apes such as chimpanzees or gorillas.

Which monkey species are used for experiments in Switzerland?

One thing right from the start: no distressing experiments are carried out on great apes in Switzerland.

In principle, a distinction is made between non-human primates (e.g. macaques, white-tufted monkeys) and human apes (bonobo, chimpanzee, gorilla and orangutan). Both groups are given a special position because of their proximity to humans and their cognitive as well as emotional abilities. This also means that experiments on these animals require even greater justification than on other animal species. The monkey species most frequently used in research are the macaques, mostly Javanese monkeys (Macaca fascicularis) and rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Marmosets account for a small proportion of experiments, but in Switzerland they are mainly used in non-stressful experiments to observe their behaviour.

What about research on great apes in Switzerland?

In 2006, the Swiss Federal Committee on Animal Experiments (ECTA), in collaboration with the Swiss Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology (ECNH), published the report "Research on primates - an ethical evaluation". In it, it is stated that the commissions consider experiments with great apes to be ethically impermissible and experiments with these animals to be unjustifiable, as they are closer to humans than non-human apes. The ECNH and ECNH have therefore recommended that stressful experiments on great apes should be banned. The legislator has not officially banned experiments on great apes in Switzerland, on the grounds that certain experiments should in theory be possible in principle. This applies, for example, to the observation of behaviour. However, distressful experiments are no longer carried out. Based on the Swiss Animal Protection Act, an authorisation would not be accepted today.