Responding to a significant drop in support for the use of animals in research in the UK, the country’s leading research universities, medical charities and drugs companies today launched a new transparency initiative aimed at winning over members of the public to the need for animal research.
A total of 15 universities, four pharmaceutical firms, and groups such as Cancer Research UK, Parkinson’s UK and the Motor Neurone Disease Association issued a declaration on openness in the use of animals in medical research.
“Where possible, we use cells grown in a lab, computer models and human volunteers. When this isn’t possible, research may involve animals,” the declaration reads. “When we need to use animals, we strive to reduce the number needed, and seek to develop viable alternatives.”
“Confidence in our research rests on the scientific community embracing an open approach and taking part in an ongoing conversation about why and how animals are used in research and the benefits of this.”
The signatories welcome public scrutiny of their work in the building of an ethical framework that they say now delivers high welfare standards and only uses animals when there is no other option. The UK was the first country in the world to implement laws protecting animals – the 1822 Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle.
The coalition , making the declaration alongside UK universities and science minister David Willetts, committed itself to the development of a ‘concordat’ that will establish a set of principles of transparency in the realm of animal research.”
An Ipsos Mori survey of UK public attitudes towards research involving animals, released the same day, showed that that 63% of people support animal experimentation for all types of medical research where there is no alternative – a drop from the 73% that agreed with this statement in 2010.
The same poll also showed that 43% think that the UK’s rules on animal experimentation are well enforced, down from 56% two years ago.
Vicky Robinson, the chief executive of The National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), a group that helps fund ways to reduce the use of animals in research, said the survey results were worrying.
“There is a risk that the MORI poll data will encourage the polarised debate that so often dominates any discussion on animal research,” she said in a prepared statement. “I hope that the scientific community will rise above any provocation and truly commit to a more open debate.”
Some 11 million people donate every month to UK medical charities, delivering some £1 billion a year to their coffers. Sharmila Nebhrajani, the head of the Association of Medical Research Charities said: “We owe it to the public therefore to be clear about how and why we use animals so they can have confidence in the research their donations fund.”
“It is crucial we can build the confidence of the public in this important work,” she added.
Animal welfare activists however dismissed the move as a public relations exercise.
Penny Hawkins, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said: “If the scientific community really wants to address these concerns, it will have to be more honest about the harms caused to animals – which can be very severe – and not just talk about the potential benefits of research.”
“Talk is cheap. It’s time to deliver.”