Cephalopod Biology Research in the 21st Century - A European Perspective.
We would like to remind all of you that the meeting is aimed to review current cephalopod research from a European perspective and specifically examine the potential of cephalopods as ‘model animals’ to address a range of research questions from molecular neuroscience to ecology.In case you didn't catch that, one of the spurs to this meeting is a new EU law that will require cephalopod research to conform to the same laws as vertebrate research.
The timing of this meeting is prompted by the revision to EU Directive 86/609 which will bring all cephalopods (adults and immature forms) within the legislative framework currently covering research using vertebrates. This legislation comes into force in January 2013. A session in the workshop is dedicated to a review of this legislation and the likely impact it will have on current and future research in this area and the practical implications for the welfare of these species.
In a way, that's quite weird, because cephalopods are not vertebrates. Why extend vertebrate laws exclusively to cephalopods, among all the invertebrates of the world? Even other molluscs--snails, clams, mussels--are being left out in the cold.
But it's not without precedent. In England, octopuses have long had unique legal protections denied even other cephalopods.
To us humans, cephalopods seem qualitatively different than other invertebrates. They have complex nervous systems, and eyes in particular. They have sensitive skin. They solve puzzles and escape tanks. They're smart. They're interesting. Heck, they hooked me at ten years old and never let go. I'm not sorry to see them get some legal recognition.
In case you're not familiar with animal research legislation, what we're talking about is rules and regulations related to keeping, manipulating, and killing animals for research. These regulations don't make animal research illegal, they just provide a framework in which the research must be documented and justified. The details vary tremendously and I don't pretend to be an expert.
I was, however, a co-author on a review paper several years ago called Ethical and welfare considerations when using cephalopods as experimental animals. From the Introduction:
When considering the welfare of vertebrate animals in experiments it is recommended that the three R’s (reduction, replacement, and refinement) be considered. This involves ensuring that the number of animals used in the experiments is valid (reduction), considering alternatives to live animals in experiments (replacement), and adoption of experimental methods that minimize distress to the animals (refinement). We recommend that the three R’s should be a major consideration when using cephalopods in experiments.And then, a little bit later,
The future implementation of legislation for the ethical use of cephalopods is unclear and research scientists will be responsible for determining the legal requirements for their country and/or research institute when using cephalopods in experiments. For example, the status of cephalopods in the EU legislation for animal ethics is currently under review, and one recommendation is that all cephalopods are included in the legislation.Look at us, being all ahead of the game! Anticipating needs, etc. etc.
But on a practical level, what does animal research legislation do? Currently, it forces vertebrate researchers to deal with a lot more paperwork than invertebrate researchers. That's all I know for certain. Has it reduced death and sufferent of vertebrate animals? Has it stimulated researchers to develop and work in non-animal systems? Heck, has it stifled scientific discovery? I don't really know definitive answers to these questions, and I'm sure the answers depend on country and institution.
I would looooooove to attend the Euroceph session dedicated to these very questions, but I don't know if I can make it to Naples in April. If you're in Naples already--or if you find yourself with disposable income and time--hit up Euroceph for me, okay?