Budget and Human Resources commissioner, Kristalina Georgieva, gives a press conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on June 3. (Julien Warnand/EPA)

The European Commission has rejected a plea to abolish animal research across the European Union, saying that doing so would harm biomedical research.

A petition initiative by 1.17 million signatories had urged the commission to scrap a 2010 directive regulating the use of animals in scientific research and to propose new rules phasing out animal research in favor of “more accurate, reliable, human-relevant methods.”

In reaction, many science organizations and a group of Nobel laureates spoke out in defense of animal research.

In its official response to the initiative, called Stop Vivisection, the commission broadly sided with animal research advocates. As to the petition signers, “we agree with your goal, we share your belief that animal testing should be phased out,” one of the commissioners, Kristalina Georgieva said.

However, “it is premature at this stage to abruptly put a stop to animal testing because too many scientific advances are dependent on this form of testing,” Georgieva told reporters.

Several scientists and research organizations praised the decision to stick with the existing E.U. legislation, saying it had been drafted to help reduce, refine and replace the use of animals in the lab.

The commission said it will seek to speed up the development and adoption of alternative methods and to better monitor compliance with the directive in member states.

Animal welfare groups say that’s not enough.

The Eurogroup for Animals in Brussels, for one, said it “is very disappointed that there is not even a minimal commitment to funding alternatives” in the E.U.’s research funding program.

This is the third European Citizens Initiative, as the petition effort is called, submitted to the commission since this tool for direct democracy was introduced three years ago. (The second one also focused on scientific research: It sought to ban E.U. funding for research on embryonic stem cells.)

All three initiatives have been rejected.