Asserting that it is responding to the public’s desire for more information about animal research, Understanding Animal Research has announced the Concordat on Openness on Animal Research in the U.K. The Concordat, which has 72 signatories from across the scientific sector, lists four commitments:
We will be clear about when, how, and why we use animals in research
We will enhance our communications with the media and the public about our research using animals
We will be proactive in providing opportunities for the public to find out about research using animals
We will report on progress annually and share our experiences
The Concordat is underpinned by an agreement that communication about animal research should provide accurate descriptions of the benefits, harms, and limitations of research, be realistic about the potential outputs of such research, and be open about its impact on animal welfare and the ethical considerations involved. The document also strongly encourages signatories to consider whether they can offer access to their animal research facilities for accredited journalists and media organizations; government officials; and local school, patient, and community groups.
Under each of the commitments is a series of actions that signatories can take to fulfill them. These include identifying spokespeople who will answer questions about an organization’s use of animals, supporting researchers who would like to talk about their work using animals, including information on the role that animal research has played in announcements of scientific advances, and providing more images and videos of the reality of animal research.
Understanding Animal Research, founded in 1908 as the Research Defence Society, highlighted projects and strategies undertaken by prominent signatories. For example, Arthritis Research underlined its commitment to the “three R’s”—reduce, replace, and refine. (In detail: reduce the number of animals used; replace the use of animals with alternative research methods and where possible avoid the use of animals altogether; refine how animal-based experiments are carried out to minimize any suffering and to improve animal welfare.) Other signatories with proactive animal research policies include Alzheimer’s Research UK, Bayer, the BBC, GlaxoSmithKline, the Medical Research Council, and Novo Nordisk.
In its documentation about the Concordat, Understanding Animal Research noted that public opinion surveys run by Ipsos MORI, a market research organization, showed that “there is a relatively high level of public acceptance of research for medical benefit and we recognize that this is because many people trust us to carry out research using animals in a responsible way.”
While it is true that survey results released in 2012 showed that more than 85% of respondents were “conditional acceptors” of the use of animals in scientific research (that is, they agree with at least 1 of 4 statements regarding the use of animals in scientific research for medical purposes and/or under high welfare conditions), this figure was 5% less than in 2010. Respondents classed as “objectors” represented 37% of those surveyed, up from 35% in 2010.
A significant proportion (40%) of those sampled indicated that they would like to know more about animal experimentation before they form a firm opinion. As detailed in the Ipsos MORI report, “Over half (54%) trust the Government’s inspectorate and a similar proportion (53%) believe that Britain probably has tough rules in place to govern animal experimentation. However, trust has fallen in 2012; a significant proportion lack trust in the regulatory system around animal experimentation (43%) which is higher than in 2010. Many still would not be surprised if experimentation went on behind closed doors (64%).”
Possibly in hopes of lessening uncertainty, allaying fears, and reducing distrust, the Concordat signatories have committed themselves, in the words of Sir Mark Walport, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, to "supporting clear, transparent, and open communication and proactive public engagement on [animal research].”
Professor Dominic Wells, member of the Steering Group and Professor of Translational Medicine at the Royal Veterinary College, said: “Animal research remains vital to developing the treatments that can benefit both humans and animals. While 10 years ago there was still a real fear of animal rights extremism that prevented many scientists being open about their work, the climate is now much more conducive to proper communication about the part that animal research has played and continues to play in scientific, medical and veterinary progress.”
Wendy Jarrett, Chief Executive of Understanding Animal Research and Chair of the Working Group, added: “For many years, the only ‘information’ or images that the public could access about animal research were provided by organizations opposed to the use of animals in scientific progress. This is why many people still think that animal research means testing cosmetics and tobacco, despite the fact that these have been banned in the U.K. for more than 15 years. The Concordat is an excellent opportunity to dispel these myths and give the public a chance to see the ground-breaking research that is being done on its behalf.”