The Use of Primates in Scientific Experiments - Necessary or Avoidable?
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Every year, more than 100 000 monkeys and apes are used for biomedical research around the world. Because primates have close and sometimes unique similarities to humans, their use is still deemed necessary in the safety testing of new pharmaceuticals and in several areas of biomedical research. However, the principles of reducing, refining and replacing the use of non-human primates in scientific testing are supported as ways to minimise their use without compromising the quality of scientific work.

These are some of the conclusions reached by the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) of the European Commission which examined newly available scientific information and issued an opinion on “The need for non-human primates in biomedical research, production and testing of products and devices”.

At the request of the European Commission DG Health and Consumer Protection, GreenFacts faithfully summarised this recent scientific opinion. The plain-language summary is now available from the EU Directorate General of Health and Consumers in four languages: English, French, Spanish and German. It is also available from GreenFacts (, a leading publisher of scientific information.

Highlights of the SCHER Opinion

At present, there are no valid scientific arguments to stop using primates for drug safety testing and scientific research in several areas, such as research on infectious diseases and on the brain, but this position should be regularly reviewed as new alternatives are constantly being developed.

The SCHER supports the “three Rs” principle of reducing, refining and replacing the use of non-human primates in scientific testing and makes a series of recommendations regarding their use:

  • Non-human primates should be used only when this is scientifically justified;
  • Alternative techniques such as tests on cells grown in the laboratory, non-invasive methods and computer modelling should be encouraged;
  • The use of other animal species should be further investigated and considered;
  • There should be coordination and communication between facilities and countries doing animal testing to share data to minimize the numbers of primates used;
  • Any tests on primates should cause as little pain and distress as possible;
  • Housing and breeding of primates used in research should follow high standards of care;
  • The use of primates caught in the wild should be discouraged for both scientific and animal welfare reasons.

About GreenFacts

GreenFacts asbl/vzw is an independent, multi-stakeholder non-profit organization based in Belgium. Our mission is to bring complex scientific reports on health and the environment to the reach of non-experts.

We publish faithful summaries of authoritative international scientific reports. The summaries are written in a language for non-specialists and presented in a reader-friendly Three-Level Structure of increasing detail. GreenFacts' publications are freely available in several languages on

GreenFacts was created in 2001 by individuals from scientific institutions, environmental and health organizations, and businesses, who called for wider access to unbiased information on health and the environment.

About the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER)

The SCHER (Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks) is one of three independent non-food scientific committees set up in 2004 and renewed in 2009 by the European Commission to advise the Commission on matters of consumer safety, public health and the environment.

The SCHER provides the Commission with unambiguous scientific advice on health and environmental risks related to pollutants in the environmental media and other biological and physical factors or changing physical conditions which may have a negative impact on health and the environment, for example in relation to air quality, water, waste and soils, as well as on life cycle environmental assessment. It also addresses health and safety issues related to the toxicity and eco-toxicity of biocides.

About DG Health and Consumers

The role of Health and Consumers Directorate General of the European Commission is to make Europe's citizens healthier, safer and more confident. Over the years the European Union has established EU laws on the safety of food and other products, on consumers' rights and on the protection of people's health. The DG Health and Consumers has the task of keeping these laws up to date.

It also ensures that the national, regional or even local governments in EU countries apply the EU's health and consumer protection laws and make sure traders, manufacturers and food producers in their country observe the rules.

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