With the Dispatch on the Promotion of Education, Research and Innovation (ERI Dispatch) 2021–2024 and the financing of Switzerland's participation in Horizon Europe, the Swiss Federal Assembly got the biggest chunks in the field of ERI all wrapped up last year. During the spring session, which runs from 1 to 19 March 2021, they will discuss, among other things, the popular initiative to ban animal and human experimentation and – for the third and last time – the ETH Law.
Exciting debate on the ban of animal and human experiments to be expected
On 10 March, the National Council will debate the popular initiative "Yes to a ban on animal and human experimentation". The initiative wants a ban on animal experiments and research on humans. In addition, it wants to ban trade, import and export of all products that have been tested on animals. The Federal Council rejects the initiative. It is convinced that it would jeopardise the attractiveness of Switzerland as a research location.
The initiative probably has no chance in parliament. Two minority motions, however, will be discussed. A minority from the SP, the Greens and the GLP is calling for the bill to be referred back to the Commission so that it can draw up a counter-proposal at the legislative level with certain parameters. For example, animal experiments whose efficacy cannot be proven within the framework of independent benefit assessments should be banned. A second minority from the SP and the Greens is calling for an amendment to the Federal Constitution in the sense of a gradual phase-out of burdensome animal experiments.
Different institutions of the ERI sector have expressed their opposition to the initiative. For example, swissuniversities and the Swiss National Science Foundation. Animal experiments are also carried out in the ETH Domain. And alternatives are being researched. Researchers at Eawag, for example, received an award for a test that checks the toxicity of water samples and new chemicals on gill cells instead of on live fish. Empa, on the other hand, is researching ways to test the safety of nanomaterials without animal testing – with the help of individual cells in the test tube, mathematical comparison models and algorithms. However, it is not yet possible to replace all animal experiments, so they remain necessary. This has also been shown by research into vaccines against COVID-19.
ETH Law: conciliation committee imminent
During the winter session, the National Council and the Council of States again failed to agree on whether the institutions of the ETH Domain have a right of appeal against decisions of the ETH Board and whether the ETH Board or the Federal Council should elect the members of the ETH Appeals Commission. These two remaining differences are now to be resolved in the spring session – in the National Council on 4 March and in the Council of States on 9 March. If the two chambers still cannot find a solution even at the third attempt, a conciliation committee will be convened. This committee must present a proposal to the National Council and the Council of States on the remaining differences. If one of the two chambers rejects this proposal, the entire bill is considered to have failed. The partial revision of the ETH Law would then have failed.